Villgro’s incubation program is designed to help startups realise their full business potential as they develop beneficial healthcare innovations throughout Africa. One key feature of this program is to match our innovators with a mentor who has personal experience in the health innovation and startup space.
One of these mentors, Ankit Jhanwar, has supported Villgro innovators since 2020, listening to their needs and giving feedback as they navigate the ups and downs of the entrepreneurship journey.
Although every mentoring relationship is slightly different, Ankit generally holds a regular fortnightly call. His first priority is to understand the innovator he is supporting: What is their business? Where are they struggling? He asks them for data, including what sales are taking place, who their customers are, what money they are spending and where. Based on this information, he then works to bring focus to their work and advises them on how they can make some short-term wins before their next call.
Ankit is very action oriented in his mentorship. His goal is for the founders he works with to make actual progress as a result of their conversations, rather than just receiving advice that they could find on the internet. Even after the official mentorship period ends, Ankit often keeps in touch with the companies he has worked with on an as-needed basis.
Although Ankit has worked with startups in every area of the health sector, his primary specialty is in the area of medical device development because of his own personal experience. He was on a team that developed an affordable device for treating birth asphyxia, where a baby is unable to breathe, risking the cutoff of oxygen to the brain and the possibility of resulting brain damage. Although technologies already existed that addressed this issue, the cost was prohibitive for most low-resource countries at around $30,000 each. Ankit and his colleagues developed a device that performs the same function, but reduced the cost to less than $4,000.
The journey for this device from start to finish was not simple. Ankit was involved from the research and development stage to awareness raising and market sensitisation to eventually launching it globally. Because he was involved in every step of this complicated and arduous process, he has been able to relate with the Villgro incubatees, encouraging them along the way, and warning them about the potential pitfalls they might face. Ankit is offering to Villgro's innovators something that he did not have during his own process. He says, “I wish we had somebody to tell us how to avoid some of the challenges we faced on our journey.”
Throughout his many dealings with emerging businesses, Ankit has noticed a few primary challenges that almost every innovator faces. Startups often focus solely on the product, but don’t think about how they will eventually sell what they are creating. Because many of the innovators he works with come from a technology background, the alignment towards commercial interest is often lacking. He insists that, while innovation is vital, it is important to have a balance between the two. Innovators need to consider why they are innovating and how they will sell their final product. Almost all of his mentorship has revolved around aligning the innovation to the commercial side of things.
Early stage entrepreneurs also have a tendency to continually focus on the next thing rather than seeing what is working right now. Businesses run on profits and cannot rely on outside funding forever, so if an innovator has something that is sellable, they should focus on that as a smaller goal and bring in cash. This will allow them to be more relaxed as they continue to complete their more long-term objectives. Ankit recommends that startups think about what they have to offer right now and how they can make money from it rather than waiting for the ever-elusive perfect product or perfect service.
Ankit mentors for several reasons. He enjoys working with innovators who are taking a risk in order to offer something that benefits society. If he can support them in a way that increases their chances of success, he is very happy to do so.
Additionally, he views mentoring as a learning experience for himself. He carries out the everyday work of his business, but it’s only when he takes the time to explain what he does and why he does it that he becomes clearer on the reasons and rationale behind his activities. As he advises others on their businesses, it also helps him implement things more effectively in his own business.