Innovator Spotlight: Zuri Health

An interview with Ikechukwu Anoke, Co-Founder and CEO of Zuri Health

Tell us about your innovation. What is the problem? What solution are you offering? What populations are you serving?

The problem that Zuri Health is solving is accessibility to and affordability of healthcare. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest disease burden in the world, over half the population lives below the poverty line, and there is a doctor-to-patient ratio of 1 doctor to 5,000 people. This affects the quality and accessibility of healthcare services and results in a broken down healthcare supply chain. Zuri Health is democratising access to healthcare by providing an affordable and accessible healthcare solution.

Zuri Health is a virtual hospital with an end-to-end platform allowing patients to access their entire healthcare journey in one place, from scheduling a doctor’s appointment to buying medication to booking a lab test. These end-to-end processes create an opportunity for all of a patient’s health services to be accessed on one simple platform. To ensure inclusion (as 65% of mobile phone users don’t have access to internet or data), Zuri Health has an SMS component that allows patients to speak with health professionals via text message.

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

Zuri Health has many things to celebrate. We are a fast growing health tech company that is delivering impactful healthcare solutions with over 500,000 mobile subscribers to date. Our work in Zambia alone sees an average of 3,000 unique doctor-to-patient engagements on the SMS platform daily. We just closed a group framework agreement with MTN that gives us access to over 180 million subscribers in 21 countries, putting us on course to be the biggest telemedicine company in terms of distribution. We have also launched in eight markets, offering multiple MVPs in each. We have also just been accepted into the Multichoice Accelerator Program as one of only twenty eight companies on the continent.

We are currently the most awarded health tech company in Africa, with 21 awards and counting. We were Sankalp Company of the Year for 2022, were listed by Vivatech as one of the top 15 health tech companies in the world to watch, Yale Startup Review listed Zuri Health as one of the top 30 startups in Africa to watch, and Hollon IQ named us as one of the top 50 healthcare companies in Africa.

What are the primary challenges you’re currently facing?

Several of the issues we're facing are related to regulations. The healthcare system in Africa today suffers from either over-regulation or under-regulation. The health tech and telemedicine space is still evolving, so there are issues of lack of clarity and grey areas around regulations in healthcare. Data privacy is also becoming very important. Building a robust system that is cognizant of the global GDPR policies is crucial. Zuri Health hired a senior legal and compliance person to lead this process internally, we also did an internal audit of our systems and decided to implement all the recommendations, regardless of how expensive they were. Today we are certified Data handlers in Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia and Kenya. We have also taken a cyber breach insurance.

We are also seeing challenges from a talent perspective. Big companies have the majority of talent because they can pay more and we’re not churning out as much human capital as we need. Zuri health set up a talent pipeline especially in tech, we have partnered with Decagon to create an internship programme where junior developers are paired with more senior developers and groomed to take over in 18 months, this enables us to plan for when the senior developers get offers we can't compete with.

And, obviously, being able to raise the required funding to help us scale the business is always a challenge. Recently we've seen many failures in the innovation ecosystem, with entrepreneurs unable to raise what they need or investors losing their appetite when it comes to funding startups. Zuri health first us focused on building a path to profitability fast! We are also positioning ourselves to get non dilutive funding. Responsible spending is also very important for us.

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

Governance is key; build a solid governance structure now. Don't wait for when you're very big to start building a governance structure. Introduce corporate governance very early. It will save your business.

Finally, always create a path to profitability. It is very crucial for you as a company to have a strong path to profitability, because it is very challenging to continue depending on fundraising to scale.

How has Villgro impacted your growth?

As we have worked with Villgro in their incubation program over the past few months, it has been incredible from a capacity building perspective. They have supported us with financial modelling and our budget, and now we’re also having conversations about how they can guide us from a storytelling perspective.