Innovator Spotlight: Simbona

An Interview with Habtamu Abafoge, Founder of Simbona Africa.


Tell us about your innovation. What problem are you solving? What solution are you offering?

Simbona is a healthcare company that designs and manufactures medical devices. Currently, Simbona is working on three different products: a baby warmer, a phototherapy machine, and an ultraviolet disinfection machine. 

I’ll focus specifically on the problem we are solving with our baby warmer. The infant warmer is designed to address health challenges in Ethiopia and beyond. There are often premature births and without a warming mechanism in the hospital or health center, the baby will not be able to survive because of hypothermia or infection. The main challenge with what is currently on the market is that they are very expensive and there are no parts and accessories to replace if the machines fail because they’re imported from abroad. Simbona is addressing these two big problems by designing and manufacturing medical devices like  neonatal phototherapy units and  a baby warmer that is effective, affordable (predicted to be around half the price of the imported machines), accessible and designed for the African context. Everything is designed and manufactured in Africa.  

What is a recent example of progress? What are you currently celebrating?

We’ve achieved some big milestones this year. There are so many challenges around the regulatory process, but we have currently completed all the requirements from a regulatory point of view, so we are ready to manufacture in Ethiopia. This is not only for the baby warmer but also the neonatal jaundice treatment  machine. Both have met all national and international standards. So we are now preparing our team for mass production, including standard operating procedures and quality management systems. 

Our participation in the IDRC program has helped us foster a partnership with Jimma University, where our baby warmers were used in clinical performance tests. Through enrolling preterm birth babies with hypothermia, Simbona’s infant radiant warmer clinical performance test was conducted. The 54 patients who had hypothermia conditions were treated successfully with our locally made devices. Data analysis is under preparation by clinicians, so once it’s all ready, it will be published and prepared for our partners, customers and the government. We are celebrating this achievement because our idea has not just remained as an idea. It’s now on the ground and we’re seeing the real impact and we’re seeing it improving lives on a small scale. We’re now looking ahead at expanding that impact to a larger scale. 

What are the primary challenges you're currently facing?

We have achieved many milestones this year, but it has taken more than five years to develop the idea and actually solve the problem. For some of our products, there were no established standards in place for developing medical devices. In collaboration with different Ethiopian regulatory bodies, we’ve made progress, but it has been challenging. 

Now our current challenge is raising the finances. Because now the products are ready, the clinical performance tests have been conducted and show that the machines are effective. The only remaining thing is raising funds for manufacturing our products, including the human resources needed to support the next phase of our business.  

Over the course of developing your innovation, what is something you have learned that stands out and that might help other innovators?

During the course of this journey, I’ve learned many things as an individual but also as the core team of Simbona. We learned the power of mentorship and how it’s important in innovation development. Mentorship from Villgro Africa and Jimma University has been essential. 

Also, the development of such products has taught us the commitment and patience required when developing a medical device. Now we understand how medical device development can be done in Africa. It’s important that we learn from our journey.

We’ve also learned that even small financial support at the beginning, like what we received from Villgro Africa, can help to get us on the road to achieving our milestones. Additionally, we have learned the importance of networking, building relationships with potential customers, investors and partners. 

How has Villgro impacted your growth?

Villgro’s impact on our team has the lion’s portion, especially through mentorship, helping us network with their peers, and helping us network with experts from different parts of the world. Their impact was beyond the financial investment, but the finance they provided gave us confidence that our idea was valuable and had potential. It allowed us to move forward. Their follow up, encouragement, and trusting us in our innovation has helped us to build our business and work toward our goals with passion.