ADVANTAGE HEALTH AFRICA was born out of a desire to see significant performance improvement in the healthcare industry, particularly in business improvement and patient care treatment outcomes. The company uses technology to improve access to medicines with its my-medicines.com product and skills development with its AHA Capacity Development Initiatives. The company’s mission statement is to promote the largest collaboration of health services organizations across Africa by 2027.
Here is an interview with the founder of Advantage Health Africa, Abimbola Adebakin who’s part of the Africans Building Africa, conducted by one of our contributors, Alaba Ayinuola.
1. Tell us about yourself and your business
My name is Abimbola Adebakin, I studied Pharmacy and Business Management. I am also a Certified Performance Technologist which really is about looking for and implementing performance improvement. I am married, with a son and reside in Lagos, Nigeria.
As a summary, my career has straddled consulting (Accenture and FITC) as well as entrepreneurship development (Caraale Pharmacy, Tony Elumelu Foundation and now Advantage Health Africa). I see myself as a solutions provider, someone who sees issues as potential opportunities and on a good day, I have a can-do attitude, to explore what is possible. Its like an adventure for me, so, my adventures are typically not out in the jungle but in business.
Advantage Health Africa, which I lead presently, started from that point – seeing gaps and issues in healthcare, prodding it and evaluating and seeing an entry point (in some business schools, low hanging fruit) and clamping onto that. It has led me on a fantastic journey so far.
Advantage Health Africa has evolved from being a performance improvement consulting company to a digital health provider and aggregator. We have carved a niche in promoting collaboration and leveraging services and tech solutions to bring access to small and medium sized operators within the health care space more particularly with pharma serving at the primary care level.
This way, we serve as a connector of some sorts (something I have done my whole life). We identified three key gaps: need for proficiency, reduction in costs, and increase in revenue. And all our solutions are geared towards that so the providers of healthcare to our continent can do better, have access to skills, resources, and markets.
Our flagship, my-medicines.com
is on one hand, an access to market solution for community pharmacies as well as an access to genuine medicines for people who seek to fill their prescriptions and cannot readily find them. Especially those who need the convenience of home/ office delivery or simply need us to fulfill their order back home, while they are in diaspora. Many of our clients order medicines for their parents, and have found us reliable, safe and convenient.
2. How much did you need to start your business and how were you able to raise that capital?
I started Advantage Health Africa twice. The first time, back in 2010, I had some money set aside from my day job and hired a staff, shared office and begun the market research and technology solution part. It didn’t take off well so I left it. Can’t remember how much I spent actually.
The second attempt, I started with Zero Capital (found out later that its actually a concept) which in reality is how many of us entrepreneurs started. It was exploratory, and I leveraged skills and social network this time around.
In going with the business I have raised financial capital from consulting jobs – yes, I didn’t have a day job, but I leveraged some skills to help others in some ways that paid money (still doing that). So, actual cash has come from consulting and more recently, from some services rendered as part of our solutions – essentially, we have bootstrapped!
I say this because I find a lot of would-be entrepreneurs have a mental block to the issue of “capital” without realizing that capital comes in different forms.
For me, social capital is the most powerful and limitless. It gives you much more leverage than a finite financial capital. You can get goodwill and credits (like we got from some vendors). You can get network and introductions that many spend money and years getting, which catalyzes your business beyond what money can do. You can get clients referred to you, brand visibility (which I and my organization have enjoyed tremendously). Most importantly, you can get an incredible team (like I have with the Advantage Health Africa team). So, please highlight this in your capital definition.
3. What are some of the challenges you face in your business and how do you overcome those challenges?
Time – we have so many opportunities and managing time to address them in a clear and conclusive manner is sometimes a challenge. We are constantly seeking efficiency in our processes. Sometimes, turning our back on some opportunities is one way we are managing time, so there is a pain that comes with that. Multi-tasking and keeping the internal discipline to close on projects is another way we are overcoming this challenge. Right now, we have an Advisory Board and its holding us accountable to key performance indicators (KPIs) and the figures.
Quality – we deal with medicines, so it is not a frivolous sector. People depend on us to use all possible means to ensure what they get is genuine and safe. So, we are big on Quality Assurance – it has informed our business model and who we get involved with. Also, it’s a daily internal core focus that we keep improving continuously. We share our desires and expectations with the supply side of our work, and this is a big deal. No amount is too much to spare on ensuring quality.
Scalability – I must say a lot of the efficiencies we seek are geared towards scaling our business. I believe sustainability comes from when your business can stand on it’s own. So, this is a challenge my team and I focus on largely. It’s informing our internal communication (everyone shares the vision), we are forging partnerships, defining our processes (we hope to franchise and you can’t do that without key reproducible processes), and learning – we are constantly learning from the good, the bad, and the ugly.
4. Where do you see your business in 5 years from now and what steps are you taking today to reach that objective?
We are solutions providers. So first, I want to see that we have actually – in a measurable way- addressed challenges in the health sector. Problems of access to medicines for a large population across our continent. My-medicines.com must be seen as the platform that gets you your medicine – the default name you think of to order medicines. Our network of over 650 offline pharmacies carry the inventory you need. Let us help you get it, and stop trolling the streets in frustration.
I also want to see linkages Advantage Health Africa brings with many other solutions providers in the sector. We are aggregators and collaborators essentially. So, we are known today as the aggregator you go to for last mile provision of medicines. Various other solution providers are coming to rely on us for that leg of the value chain. That position must be strengthened.
I have this “jigsaw puzzle” perspective to solving the health care challenges of affordability, access, and quality. Each of us serving to solve these must see ourselves as a piece of the puzzle. We hone in our own part, be the best and assure others there is no need to reinvent the wheel, more like – “I have got this” – and then, be available to others so they focus on other aspects. We cannot all be doing just a few things and leave the rest unattended to.
The powerful interconnectedness that comes from that is what we need to leapfrog and really deliver the healthcare that over 1.2 billion Africans need. It is obvious that no one solution or country can achieve it in isolation, and the population growth is one we plan for as well. Our solutions today must address the needs of 5, 10, 30 and 50 years from now.
So, at Advantage Health Africa, we want to be seen as sorting out a few key pieces of the puzzle.
5. What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to start a business or invest in Africa?
Apart from having a balanced view of capital requirements, I think the other advice will be about business that meets a need. Is there a market demand. Recall from basic secondary school economics, demand is not “we like your products” – which some aspect of social media can give you; demand is “how much and where do I pay”. It is tied to payment for your service. Don’t get busy and distracted by how appealing you appear. Be very focused on generating demand – find and retain your paying customers. Either for services or goods.
I say find and retain – many may find first time buyers, but repeat purchases and referrals is what you can build a business on. Look for that in your focus.
Other things matter, like your team, your patents, your partners and the value you bring to the table, etc. All those matter very much, so, learn and keep learning about getting better all round. If you need to share your business journey with others, so that you don’t lose focus of ALL that matters, please do. It’s more important to me to own a part of a vital and successful venture than to own all of a frustrated and truncated venture.
6. How is your business participating to the development of Africa?
Our very essence is addressing a key need of the development of Africa – healthcare of the people. So, we are all about that. We stared with pharmaceuticals and see inroads into other verticals in the healthcare space. We also started in Nigeria and have begun to see inroads into other countries. Our name and brand essence is to bring solutions in the healthcare space across Africa.
Healthcare challenges can quickly plunge you into poverty, or keep you there. And no one, absolutely no one, is immune to health care needs. Each one of us will face it someday, if not directly, it may be a spouse or parent or child.
So, the sooner we join hands to find lasting solutions:
- that can be adopted across Africa,
- that are adaptable and adoptable irrespective of country,
- that explore low entry barriers and high impact
then we can jointly sort out that aspect of our development.
I, therefore, see Advantage Health Africa bringing these solutions that are tested and getting traction in one line and country, to other lines and countries.