For decades African hospitals had been operating entirely manually, from taking notes on paper on how many patients entered the hospital on any given day, to what type of care those patients needed, or where they were supposed to be directed to. The result was a major lack in efficiency, accuracy, or often even data about the patients they were treating.
In 2016, the situation prompted Nigerian entrepreneurs Adegoke Olubusi, Tito Ovia, and Dimeji Sofowora to launch Helium Health, a healthcare technology provider working in several African countries. Today, the company cofounded by the three 2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 honorees, announced it had raised $10 million in Series A round, led by Global Ventures and Asia Africa Investment & Consulting (AAIC). The other participants are: Tencent, Ohara Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd, HOF Capital, Y Combinator, VentureSouq, Chrysalis Capital, Kairos Angels and Flying Doctors Healthcare Investment Company.
“This new round means that we have more firepower to be able to expand the reach of our product way beyond Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia where we are now,” Olubusi, who serves as the company’s CEO, says. “When we think about the extent of the challenges and problems that we can solve in the healthcare sector in Africa, there could be a million ways in which this can help us grow.”
Olubusi says that his company tries to solve the three core ways in which the healthcare system in Africa is dysfunctional: inefficiency due to manual processes, fragmentation, and lack of data.
“Imagine if a hospital sees a 1000 people a day,” Olubusi says. “How do you count a 1000 people every day with specific issues they need taken care of when you’re doing everything on paper?”
Helium Health’s flagship product is the Electronic Medical Records/Hospital Management Information System, an end-to-end software which helps hospitals manage and digitally store the data. The company’s product is currently used by over 300 hospitals and serves 165,000 patients per month.
In the last three to six weeks, Helium Health rolled out several new products, which they hope these products will help them expand in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Senegal, and Ivory Coast.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, the most popular of the new products is Helium Teleclinic: a platform that enables brick and mortar hospitals to have televisits with their patients.
“The demand is incredible, we’ve had over 250 hospitals sign up,” Olubusi says. “More than half of them have never worked with us before.”
Olubusi, a Johns Hopkins graduate and an eBay and Goldman Sachs alum, started Helium Health in 2016 with his high school friend Dimeji Sofowora (CFO), and Tito Ovia (Head of Growth), whom he’s known since college. The three of them had studied abroad, had returned to Nigeria and were looking for a problem to solve. They decided to focus on healthcare because it was a sector that desperately needed modernization, and also because it is a sector that applies to everyone.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, if you get in an accident and there isn’t a strong emergency department, you will die,” Olubusi says. “Because of the COVID-19 situation, now these countries are having to face the harsh reality of not investing in their healthcare sector.”
The hardest part of the business was onboarding the first 10-15 hospitals in the beginning.
“You are twenty-something-year-old kids, you are not doctors, and you tell them you want to run their hospital,” Olubusi says.
Helium Health participated in the Y Combinator class of 2017, where they raised a $2 million seed round. Today, the Lagos-based company has over 100 employees and with the 10 million Series A, it has raised a total of $12 million.