Please introduce yourself– My name is Dokun Dairo, and I trained at the Obafemi Awolowo Medical School; then I immigrated to the US where I did a postgraduate study in internal medicine, and since then I have engaged in the practised in internal medicine. To give back to Nigeria based on the knowledge got, I teamed up with my two other partners Ade and Wole who are from the business and finance background to see how we can help improve the health sector of Nigeria with technology.
Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur? Dr Dairo: That’s an interesting question. Yes, very well. I remember when we started the conversation back then, wole and I were talking mainly coming from the arena of the poor state of healthcare in Nigeria and the infrastructure and I stressed my interest of being my entrepreneur especially in the health sector. That is how the discussion progressed, and a few days later we got together, and the idea of medenhanz was hashed. Ade: There has always been the entrepreneurial aspect as well. Once I got to know about the medenhanz opportunity for me, it made a lot of sense because it was an opportunity for me to come to work with people that I respect and I felt we can make a big difference and improve the life of our citizens in Nigeria.
What inspired you to start MedEnhanz? For medenhanz one of the things that inspired us is that we realised that when it comes to people updating their knowledge in Nigeria, there is a huge gap because the culture of the point of care reference is not well developed in Nigeria. What I mean is that the kind or volume of information you need to know as a physician at this age cannot all be stored in your brain because of no physician and know everything at the tip of their fingers. So, for you to be able to deliver good quality care, then you need to have access to what is called the point of care reference materials through your computer, mobile phones and all that. But we realised that culture was not there in Nigeria, and that is why we decided to create an information database that will serve as a point of reference for people and that is how medenhanz started. It was because of this perceived inadequacy and deficiency in the system that motivated us to start medehnanz.
Where they problems to your product implementation? It is typical for every start-up to have problems. A lot of things that categorises startups is that most times you are a disrupter. You are bringing in innovation and with that naturally comes with different levels of challenges because you are trying to do things that people are not traditionally used to, so there is bound to be some level of resistance. One of our products, for instance, is this speaking of online continuing education for our doctors; we have the CPD products whereby medical doctors can get fast learning, and that is one of the big challenges in the health tech space. We have now made that very easy for doctors anywhere they have an internet connection, or any smart device can be a phone, tablet or computer. So, something like that you think is a no brainer and that every doctor should be doing or willing to try that out but we are still trying to get more and more doctors to buy into it to use and test out the product. There are education, publication and information publicity required to get more doctors to sign on and try it out.
What unique features differentiates your MedEnhanz from other players in the space? I will say that we are unique and what we do no startup does it in Nigeria. Currently today most people access CPD through the traditional means where they have to leave their practices to travel for conferences to do all that, but with our platform, they can easily have that. We are the only organisation that is recognised by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) to provide Online Continue Professional Development (CPD) program. Doctors can improve themselves, brush up their medical education and get credit for it. I tell you today we have clients from different states in Nigeria that come to our platform to access cpd material irrespective of where they are, some as far as Borno state. Also, we have a mobile platform where people can get on and ask questions, and the questions will be responded to by one of our doctors within a couple of minutes, but that has not been well adopted yet.
How would you describe the Start-up Environment in Nigeria regarding the support that is given by the government and entrepreneurs? I think the government is trying; they are doing what they can do. Most of the startups you probably talk to would attest to the fact that they are doing a lot more by themselves. If you are sitting around waiting for the government help, then you are going to be there for a while. Frankly, these are issues that every business in Nigeria faces including the general infrastructure problems we have in the country, electricity, road networks. These are the things that even if you are a startup will still affect your operations.
What do you think are other things Nigerian entrepreneurs struggle with the most? I believe the workforce is one challenge. Quite a lot of Nigerians have the big company mentality and want to work for well-established companies. People are not aware of the advantages and skills they will acquire when working with a startup. So, a lot of times it ‘s hard to get people to come and work for you especially if you are a startup. Even when you find the right people with the talent to work for you, there is always that risk of people migrating as well at some point. Raising capital to grow your business is another challenge, and because you are trying to preserve funds as much as you can for the operations of the business, startups are not always able to pay the people when they do their job at least not immediately. Moreover, when you are a startup, it is very difficult to acquire customers either individual or corporate clients because the trust is not there. They don’t want to deal with companies they don’t trust but with companies that are there, been tested and tried over time. So, it is for you to go out there and prove yourself to them that this is what I can do; this is a tough one in our environment in Nigeria.
What is your advice to current and upcoming health tech start-ups? They should know that it is not going to be easy because you are coming out to disrupt what people are used to. So even though from your perspective as an entrepreneur you see all the advantages of your product, the people who you think are going to be adopting it are not going to see it right away. So, the key is for you to be Doggett, persevere and persistent with a determination to succeed because it is not going to be handed to you on a platter of gold. Though it might take 3, 4 or 5 years before people begin to adopt your product you must be prepared to fight it out, and it is going to be tough, but you just have to hang on ad over time you will get the desired result. Another thing is that you have to be flexible and can’t afford to be rigid with your business plans because a lot of times you discover that by the time you start execution you have to tweak them in some ways for your products to be adopted.
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? The health sector is enormous, and there are so many aspects to it so there is no single company that can say you know what I want to take on this challenge of the problem of healthcare in Nigeria and say I want to solve it. You as an entrepreneur you must sit down and look critically what are the problems, what are the critical challenges that we have in the system that is calling, begging or crying for help. So, if you can identify and see that aspect as your passion, then it is easier for you to be able to target a technological solution that would be able to solve that problem. The health sector is a big vision, and there are other of our competitors in the space trying to address these challenges in our health space. When your company grows bigger, then you can begin to look at another aspect of the healthcare sector that are also crying for help and then you can target other solutions towards that. I think that’s the approach.
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? I will say yes, and I will say no. No in the sense that startups like us are becoming common place in Nigeria because everybody is trying to put their hands in the space, but we have not been able to recall the level of success that others have been able to recall. If you look at it from that perspective, you will not see any measurable success, and you can say the ecosystem is non-existent. But look at your platform, the digital health network coming to help boost the ecosystem, if there is nothing in place you won’t be talking to us and our other peers. That means we already have an ecosystem but is the ecosystem at an advanced stage or a mature face then-No. But at an infantry phase then yes we do have an ecosystem, is it thriving yet No. I must commend digital health because I think your organisation is one of the ones doing an underappreciated job of helping everybody see this ecosystem. One of the key things about an ecosystem is that even the ecosystem will have to know that there is an ecosystem. So, we must applaud digital health for doing things like this interview, like having your website, helping us know who else is out there and the more we are aware of who else is out there then we can also look for ways to partner, collaborate or compete. These are the things that make an ecosystem and improves it.
Is Nigeria ready for health tech? That’s a very loaded question. I will say yes we are ready. When we say ready, it means are we willing to receive new solutions and I will say absolutely, and that’s the reason why we are in existence. When you talk about technology, few things tell you whether a country is ready or not. Firstly, regarding widespread use of computer and computing devices like smartphones, mobile connectivity I think Nigeria is at that point. We have the tools that we need to embrace technology. So, the only thing that we need to do in Nigeria is just for the government to play an active role in this. What I mean by that is that Government needs to make people realise that with the technology they can do the things that they do traditionally with much ease, and record more productivity compared to the way they did it before. The other aspect is that Nigeria is part of the globalised world, everything that is done in the whole world now is technology. If we want to remain part of the globe, there is no way we can say we are not part of the technology thing, one way or the other either whether we like it or not we are going to be forced to be part of it. I will say Nigeria is ready for health tech, but we should be patient as we educate people about it. We just need people like you with what you are doing to put the word that the time has come and it is going to stay. The earlier we realise it, the better our life is going to become.
What changes or expectation are you looking forward to in the Nigerian health tech space? I won’t say there is no space. I mean where there is a problem there is a space. I agree that the problem is huge in Nigeria and sometimes if you think of where to start from it could be very intimidating and challenging. Like we mentioned earlier if you want to be an entrepreneur you must believe in what you believe in otherwise you are not going to succeed. And I think regarding the quality of healthcare too, I believe within the next ten decades with increasing adoption of technology people are going to have access to the kind of quality healthcare in another part of the advanced countries such as telemedicine. I think there is a lot to look forward to in Nigeria. Looking forward to leadership from the business aspect in driving some of these health changes in Nigeria. For example, instead of the startups just trying to educate the people, if there is a partnership between the HMOs and medenhanz that’s a way whereby it can be a win-win for educating the people. True this the HMOs can improve their delivery to their customers, improve the efficiency of their customers, help them to get more meaningful data from their client. That’s just one example, and there are much more like that if that leadership is provided, we can increase the pace of adoption of technology in health care. We can’t leave everything to the government. The government has its role to play regarding infrastructure and all that. But now that the private sector is coming in in the form of entrepreneurs I think within the next decade, or so things are going to start changing regarding the way education is delivered, the way the professionals consume information and so on. We have started seeing some improvement, but we are not there yet we are just beginning to scratch the surface. Banks have been at the forefront of driving the adoption of technology for banking in Nigeria. So, I believe with persistence, agitation and the private sector participation I believe the health sector we can make the same concept in the healthcare space.
What are your ambitions towards your market growth? We don’t lack for ambition for sure. We do want to be the premier IT company that provides solutions in the healthcare space. We have tailored products that cut across different aspect of the health sector. We have the products that target consumers, care providers, products that address regulatory compliance. That gives you a sense of how ambitious we are over the long term in making a lot of disruptions in the healthcare space. I think that’s the kind of thing that differentiates us from many of the other companies in the healthcare space.