Mobicure is a health startup based in Benin Nigeria. They are the producers of the multi award winning omomi platform. Omomi helps mothers monitor the health of their children. Its founder spoke to us about his experience running his business.
Please introduce yourself
My name is Dr. Charles Immanuel Akhimien. I am a medical doctor by training but I’m more of a social entrepreneur and innovator. I am the co-founder of a health startup called mobicure, the producers of the omomi platform.
Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Well not quite. I have always wanted to be different from most people. From medical school, I always liked doing things differently. The entrepreneurial part was incidental; my real passion is to be able to affect lives on a large scale. It happened that for me to be able to do that in a sustainable manner, we had to start a company, so I had to be an entrepreneur.
What inspired you to start Mobicure?
I was primarily inspired by the idea of doing something that affects the lives of thousands of people. So very early in medicine, I knew that sitting down in the hospital and treating malaria was not going to work out for me, so I got dissatisfied with the clinical practice of medicine, and I wanted to do something more on a large scale. I got interested in public health, and my final year in medical school I got interested in mobile health. By the end of medical school, I already had international opportunities to go outside the country, and I saw how young people were using mobile technology to do great things in the health environment, education and so on. Moreover, I thought why can’t I do the same thing here. While in med school and the internship, I could see many mothers dying or losing their children due to some silly stuff like dehydration diarrhoea. I thought to myself if she had the means through mobile technology to be able to handle the situation she did not even need to come to the hospital.
Where there problems in your product implementation?
Yes, there were problems, and they are even problems now. So, when we were starting out, the first thing was to get people to use your solution. So initially we had to start with friends and family, putting it on social media like Facebook. Getting our first fifty users was done through BBM by telling friends to download the app and give feedback of what was challenging. Another challenge was funding; funding is always a challenge because everybody is always looking for money to do more and expand more. I and my co-founder had to put in our money, and we had to innovate around the problem. The good things are that for a solution like ours there are opportunities available for grant funding, competitions and we took advantage it.
What unique features differentiates mobicure from other players in the space?
Mobicure is a company that provides health tech solutions for any health tech company. So, we started with the issue of maternal health and child care by doing the platform called Omomi. It helps mothers to monitor their health and those of their children, get access to societal support information and collect doctors and nurses report. Now they are a few platforms like this available now, e.g., mamalette. However, what makes us unique is that we are a platform that is reaching every woman regardless of the location and time. So, with omomi, we can reach anyone because we are available in mobile, web and SMS applications. Also, omomi is using the childhood survival strategy to be able to put in all of this in mobile.
How would you describe the Start-up Environment in Nigeria regarding the support that is given by the government and entrepreneurs?
Lol. Well, the government can do a lot more obviously, but I do not think the government is doing enough. I think what start-ups need in Nigeria is not only money. All around the world I do not believe government just gives money to businesses, what they do is that they create an enabling environment for start-ups and encourage us. So, for technology start-ups for example government can create hubs, donate spaces where innovators can come together to form teams and companies. If the government can increase capacity and change things for people, it does not necessarily mean they should call all the start-ups to take $50000. There are tons of us doing great work but we hardly ever get any form of recognition from the government nor collaboration. Of which this is what small countries like Rwanda are already doing.
What do you think are other things Nigerian entrepreneurs struggle with the most?
Well, entrepreneurs in Nigeria are like entrepreneurs everywhere. Aside from funding and creating an enabling environment, innovative start-ups in digital health and the likes face the perception of the people to new stuff. People are still clinging to the traditional ways of doing things and by, very definition innovation is doing new things in different ways but that is changing.
What is your advice to current and upcoming health tech start-ups?
It has been a learning course. My advice to any health or health tech business is that it is important from the beginning to have a very strong business model. For Omomi this was some of the issues that we did not exactly solve at the beginning. Health people are very passionate, and you need to understand that passion is not enough, from the beginning have individuals in the team that have the business acumen because there will be a lot of business development. Building a health startup is not like running a hospital, you must pay close attention to things like accounting, strategy, developing a desirable business module. Healthcare is still seen as a social service all around the world, and the business model is something that we must have right for us to scale and sustainable in the long run.
Healthcare interventions in Nigeria have been seen to follow a vertical pattern such as focused on maternal health, HIV and so on. Do you consider this approach to be sustainable? Alternatively, do you think that a horizontal approach will make more impact?
I think whatever method works. Start-ups are different, and countries are different. We are focusing on maternal health while life bank is focusing on safe blood. There is nothing wrong with different approaches; it is just that there needs to be more collaboration. For example, the omomi can collaborate with Urine Malaria Test start-ups.
It is said that the health tech ecosystem in Nigeria is non-existent. Do you believe that this is true? What are your thoughts on this?
It depends on what the ecosystem is doing. I just think the ecosystem is just a very nice word. The truth is that there is no health tech ecosystem, I do not believe it is available. It is nice what for example Dr. Neto is trying to do, so maybe if stuff like this continues, it will be better. That is the situation of things now, but it is something that will happen eventually.
Is Nigeria ready for health tech?
Yes! Nigeria is ready for health tech. Solutions like ours, safermom or even Kangpe, for example, are showing that Nigerians are ready for health tech. Nigeria has 150m cell phones, so Nigeria is ready for any mobile tech. The issue is you must find out their pain point, what are the problems that they have and try to use health tech to solve those problems.
What changes or expectation are you looking forward to in the Nigerian health tech space?
Lol! However, there is no space yet. Obviously, there will be more solutions. I am looking forward to partnering more with different solutions. Nigerians are notoriously not good at partnering. We are also thinking that the other person is going to cheat us and Nigerians are just complicated to work with. For us, as a company, we look forward to working with people outside the country most times because they are less stressful to work with. The moment we begin to be more honest with ourselves as Nigerians I think things will be better. However, there needs to be more collaboration, pooling of talent, pooling of funding for us to move to the next level and that is what I’m looking forward to doing.
What are your ambitions towards your market growth?
To reach 1m women in 5 years because we are at 18000 now. It is possible, and we need funding. Already we have a good marketing plan that for our level of funding has been bearing fruits because we operate very heavily through digital channels and a bunch of our customer acquisition comes from there. However, with more funding, we will be able to significantly get to that threshold where it would spread and go viral by word of mouth. That is our goal.