Matibabu, a Ugandan based hardware device company will be graduating from the Villgro Kenya incubation program. Matibabu partnered with Villgro Kenya in 2016 at a time when Villgro Kenya was looking to take a more structured and hands-on approach of engaging with startups in the health domain in East Africa.
With the objective to tap into Villgro Kenya’s global startup ecosystem, Matibabu was able to have direct access to high-potential partnerships that fit their key focus area: closing the gap between communities and access to basic healthcare.
Since the incubation started, Matibabu has received hands-on mentorship and access to large platform pitches, including the Gates Foundation and Grand Challenges. They also worked with Makerere University, under Villgro Kenya’s guidance, to conduct a pre-clinical study support and protocol design, and then to conduct the study itself. The pre-clinical trial was carried out at the molecular lab in Mulago on the selected sample size and compared with the existing malaria screening techniques such as PCR, Microscopy, and rapid diagnostic testing (RDT), resulting in conclusive results.
The partnership featured frequent capacity-building support, one-on-one sessions, monthly diagnostic panels, a scientific review committee, and educational degrees to enhance Matibabu’s business approach.
Additionally, Matibabu managed to collaborate with a list of foundations and organizations during Villgro Kenya’s incubation period. These include Lemelson Foundation, ASME’s iSHOW, Gates Foundation, mHealth Kenya, ResilientAfrica Network (RAN), and Makerere University. The collaboration also gave Matibabu the opportunity to leverage on several networks, both at the local and international levels.
Their next steps include getting through large-scale trials and scaling the malaria digital platform that is currently in 50 hospitals and reaching the next milestone of over 200 hospitals.
It has been a learning experience for the Matibabu team, which has had insights into innovation and collaboration with both the public and private sectors for early-stage medical device development.
Medixus, a knowledge-sharing app that enables health care workers to connect and collaborate in real-time, has made a number of strides since they joined the Villgro Kenya portfolio.
The company, which has been offering health care facilities with free subscriptions to improve patient care during the pandemic, has offered health workers a platform to consult with doctors outside their specialty and an opportunity to upscale their medical knowledge.
The COVID-19 response grant they received from Villgro Kenya has enabled them to allow other cadres of health providers to benefit from the resources and connections on the platform. They have also been able to add additional features to enhance their product.
“Besides the funding we received, Dr. Sylvia Shitsama, the mentor assigned to us by Villgro Kenya, has been very instrumental in contributing to content on the platform and opening up her network to us. The diagnostic panels have also helped us hear from a wider point of view of experts. So much has opened up and enabled us to progress a lot faster,” said Dr. Jean Kyula, Director of Business Development at Medixus.
The platform which currently serves over 900 health workers recently partnered with Gertrude’s Hospital, the most established pediatric hospital in Eastern and Central Africa, to improve pediatric care throughout the country.
The partnership with Gertrude’s Hospital will leverage their expertise in order to provide all 47 counties in Kenya with quality pediatric care. After an initial pilot, this will be done through consultations on the Medixus platform with facilities that have been selected in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. This will help reduce the amount of time and finances patients spend traveling to receive treatment in Nairobi and will lead to improved quality of services at the point of care.
“The essence of the app is that you are able to take a specialty and take it closer to areas where it is scarce. Their specialty will help better patient care to remote areas of the country by providing access to better care faster,” Jean mentioned during an interview.
Mr. Onesmus Kamau, Head of E-Health at the Ministry of Health, validated the need for a wider reach of the product saying, “This needs to be a day-to-day tool for hard-to-reach counties, but also those within cities. This is really great, they can use this to consult an expert who is within a county or outside a county – even within a clinical team, peer-to-peer consultations is also important … this is a game-changer.”
Part I – Investment Readiness.
Over the past few months, there has been increased discussion around the funding gap between expat and locally founded companies. To explore this further, this is the first episode of a three-part series on fundraising with a specific focus on demystifying this gap.
In this episode, we talk about what makes expat founders more investment ready and how local founders can attract more funding with Joshua Kibera, a local founder of The Pathology Network, and Emilian Popa an expat founder of Ilara Health.
– Income disparity – Expat founders have the advantage of getting the very early stage seed money (bootstrap capital) from friends and family who are more culturally inclined to invest in ideas.
– Connections and relationships are important in fundraising. Companies with strong relationships with funders have a higher chance of raising more funds compared to companies with fewer connections.
– Relationships are built from visibility and access to information. Most foreign founders have a background in business schools like Harvard and MIT where information is accessible and relationships are easier to make compared to a founder sitting in Mombasa trying to raise funding from the same pool of funders.
– Information is however becoming more accessible with more virtual competitions and pitches taking place. Investors have also become more accessible compared to the past when one had to travel to pitch or meet them.
– Socio-cultural factors – culture is also a major factor, expat founders are more articulate in communicating their Big Hairy Audacious Goal while local founders tend to downplay their achievements.
What Investors look for in an Innovator
– The team – the quality of people, their motivation, and their skillset.
– The market dynamics – the size of the market, the need, potential expansion, and whether the product can be replaced.
– Communication – Are they able to communicate their Big Hairy Audacious Goal well?
Thank you for joining us today for this episode on bridging the funding gap between local and expat founded companies. In the next episode, we will discuss the role of team dynamics in fundraising.
BioInnovate Africa is a regional science and innovation-driven initiative, supported by Sida and implemented as a programme of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe). It operates in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. We also collaborate with partners in South Sudan.
BioInnovate Africa enables scientists in Eastern Africa to develop and translate innovative bioscience research ideas, technologies and inventions into practical uses in society, which promote economic growth, create jobs, and reduce poverty. Thus, BioInnovate Africa fosters the development of a sustainable bioeconomy in the region by strengthening the capacity of scientists and institutions to link innovative ideas from the bench to business.
As part of the initiative, a 5-day bioscience innovation bootcamp has been organized for entrepreneurial scientists in eastern Africa to empower them to develop innovative and commercially viable biological-based ideas in areas including but not limited to;
- Food and feed
- Waste water treatment
- Medical diagnostics
- Green chemicals
Who is eligible to apply?
This call shall be limited to citizens and/or nationals of the seven (7) BioInnovate Africa participating countries attached to a university, research institution, private company, or other related organization (either as an employee or student).
How you will benefit
- Access to Investors – Networking with investors & industry players at the 1st Regional Bioeconomy Conference.
- Investment Readiness –Winners of the pitch event will get admission to a 3 months acceleration program by Villgro Kenya & BioInnovate Africa.
- Fundraising – Increase your chances of being eligible for future BioInnovate Africa & Villgro Kenya funding and technical assistance.
- An innovative biobased idea with potential for commercial application (40 points)
- A multidisciplinary team of three (3) members e.g. comprising of academia and industry/private sector (30 points).
- At least 2 of the team members must be youth, i.e. within the age bracket of 15-35 years (10 points)
- Technical proof of concept will be preferred over unproven ideas (20 points).
How to apply
Applicants are invited to submit the following as part of their application:
- A support letter/email from your institution of affiliation (signed by e.g. the head of the department)
- CVs of team members
- A one-page personal motivation statement by the team leader
- A PowerPoint application uploaded in this format using these guidelines
All applications will be uploaded through the online portal
The deadline for receiving applications is 5th October 2020 at 23:59hrs Nairobi Time. Late submissions will be disqualified.
Successful teams will be notified through email by 9th October 2020 Selected teams are expected to participate in the bootcamp for five days on 17-21 October 2020.
The teams will pitch their innovative ideas during the 1st Regional Bioeconomy Conference to be held on 22 October 2020.
Med-tech innovations are picking up the pace in East Africa in a bid to provide homegrown solutions to healthcare challenges. Being a nascent field there are fewer mentors who have gone before them within the ecosystem to help them scale their innovations. There is a need for more mentors to help guide these innovators to not only develop impactful innovations but also thrive as enterprises.
Mentorship helps innovators (Mentee):
• Gain access to funding – mentors help innovators in fundraising and putting together compelling proposals for their projects so that they are able to compete on a global front.
• Fill the skillset gap – Enterprises gain access to mentors who have years of expertise that complement their team and help them move forward fast with fewer mistakes.
• Access to networks – Mentors can help unlock partnerships with key people who can benefit the enterprise.
Mentees need to
• Really understand their device, process, service of what they are developing, do extensive research on the market to see if it is scalable.
• Think through the business aspect during the product development stage. Don’t look at them too late when so much has been done.
• Evaluate whether they should focus on the R&D later on in their journey or whether they can outsource it so that they can focus on marketing and distribution.
• Mentees also need to reach out to mentors, make the most out of it, and utilize the expertise available to them. Seek out other mentors and do your best to seek the specific guidance you need.
At Villgro Kenya we run a mentorship program for our portfolio companies, in a bid to expose them the much-needed guidance in business development and product development. Feel free to view our mentors here .
Wekebere Limited, a Ugandan based e-health startup developing a remote fetal monitor is among eleven startups that have been selected to join the first Artificial Intelligence Accelerator Program in Ghana.
The selected participants will receive business training and capacity development required towards building highly scalable AI businesses out of their innovative solutions. The AI focussed accelerator program is run by Ghana Tech Lab in partnership with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and IBM
Earlier this year Villgro Kenya awarded the team a $20, 000 grant with technical assistance for their hardware based innovation which incorporates data analytics to increase access to care, provide personalized feedback to mothers, and help doctors earlier predict and manage pregnancy complications in low resource settings.
The makers of the affordable fetal monitor aim to reduce fetal and maternal mortality in Uganda and Sub- Saharan Africa. According to data from UNICEF, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest maternal mortality ratio with over two thirds of all maternal deaths yearly worldwide. The device currently monitors fetal heart rate, fetal movement and contractions.
Villgro Kenya’s open call for COVID-19 response solutions presented an opportunity for Lishe Living, a digital wellness and nutrition platform to reach more people living with non-communicable diseases. Lishe Living offers them a nutrition solution to manage their conditions during the pandemic.
Sharon Olago, the founder of Lishe Living, applied for the grant after learning that persons living with non-communicable diseases were distressed and particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
“At the onset of the pandemic, I received a call from the Kenya Defeat Diabetes Association’s Reuben Mogaka to come up with a solution for their members who were at high risk of dying from COVID-19. We decided to run an online clinic on Whatsapp with two trained medical microbiologists and two nutritionists to offer individualized nutrition programmes to 400 members,” said Sharon.
Following a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy body weight are key to the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. For many patients living with diabetes, the cost of insulin continues to be a challenge. Through the Lishe Living group, a member mentioned that she was able to save Ksh 4,000 per month on money she would have used to buy insulin.
“My insulin has reduced by 5 units that’s saving 2 pallets per month roughly Ksh 4,000. Lishe Living is a great group, it encourages us to eat healthy and right portions to help me get good sugar control and do exercise according to fitness levels… those tests have helped me learn about my health and diabetes,” the member posted on a survey done by Lishe Living.
Speaking of the support she has received from Villgro Kenya, Sharon mentions that the diagnostic panels and the mentorship program have helped move the company forward towards their goal of profitability and sustainability.
“The grant has helped us sustain our nutritionists’ contribution as we test this model, and the diagnostic panels help us think through how to make the model profitable in the long run. Through Villgro Kenya, we are not only getting the finance but also the technical support which is more beneficial for us. Our mentor Ankit Jhanwar has also been very helpful in our operations through our weekly check-ins”.
Unlike HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, access to care for most non-communicable diseases such as diabetes is a major problem especially among the poor, a situation which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. With interventions like Lishe Living, more patients can get access to personalized information from professionals on how to manage their conditions.
One month after Villgro Kenya awarded Simbona Africa $15,000 for their locally assembled UVC Room Sterilizer, the company has made significant progress in delivering the automated room sterilizers to hospitals in Ethiopia.
The device, which is fitted with UVC lamps (8 watts) that emit high intensity ultraviolet light, is able to kill microorganisms and pathogens found on surfaces in a room, including COVID-19.
Simbona Africa has delivered four machines to Jimma Medical Centre which is an isolation centre for COVID-19 patients. The machines are used to disinfect their wards, kitchen and ambulances which they use to transfer patients.
Simbona Africa has also received over 30 orders from individuals, hospitals and governmental offices, including Hosanna Hospital, which purchased a machine for their wards and departments..
The automated UV room sterilizer was shortlisted among ten COVID-19 interventions for the Ethiopian Ministry of Innovation and Technology Call for COVID-19 Innovations.
Following a successful call for applications, Villgro Kenya is excited to announce its new pool of mentors, drawn from across the world. The mentors come from a range of sectors, each with strong expertise in their various fields. Villgro Kenya will work closely with them to ensure they are well equipped to leverage their knowledge, expertise and networks to guide the companies in our portfolio.
The selected mentors include:
- Philippa Ngaju Makobore, head of the instrumentation division at the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI)
- Shivachi Muleji who has been a manager at Uber, Bolt and Swvl
- Dr. June Madete, the coordinator of the African Biomedical Engineering Consortium
- Dr. Sylvia Shitsama, a consulting neurosurgeon and coordinator of the mentorship program at JKUAT
- Dr. Kenneth Chelule, Senior Research Officer at the Kenya Industrial Research & Development Institute
- Ankit Jhanwar VP, Strategy Pluss Advanced Technologies Ltd.
- Belinda Shitsama, MSME & Startup Guru
- George Kaburu, Operations Director at Ipsos
At Villgro Kenya, we are aware of the difference a mentor can make in a startup’s journey to scale. They are instrumental in helping new ventures make fewer mistakes and overcome the common obstacles faced by companies in the early stages.
The CEO of MamaOpe, Olivia Koburongo, testifies to this fact. Arun Venaketsan, the CEO and co-founder of Villgro USA, has been their mentor for the past 4 months. With his guidance, as well as the connections he has made on their behalf, they have been able to move faster in their product development of a pneumonia screening device for neonates.
“Our mentor, Arun, has helped with streamlining our scope, he has connected us to a design consultancy firm in India and continues to guide us on what to look out for in a vendor. This has helped our progress to scale tremendously,” Ms. Koburongo shared with Villgro.
A mentor-based approach ensures that ventures are able to scale their innovations fast, creating impact in their communities through an active network of experts who can ultimately become investors. The current group of mentors will help advance Villgro Kenya’s goal of creating a vibrant startup ecosystem with the aim of supporting early stage entrepreneurs.