A few weeks after the COVID-19 virus first arrived on African continent, Villgro Africa invited African innovators with solutions that could contribute to the fight against COVID-19 to apply for funding. About 60 applications from 7 countries (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and South Africa) were submitted in response to the call. Out of these, 12 companies from East Africa, with support from the Lemelson Foundation, were selected for funding with amounts ranging from $5,000 to $20,000.
This Villgro Africa COVID-19 portfolio has since made important contributions to COVID-19 response efforts in the region. Kijenzi supplied over 2,000 locally manufactured PPE’s to hospitals in Western Kenya in the early days of the pandemic when supply shortages were critical. Similarly, Simbona Africa quickly built and supplied UVC-based room sanitizers and cabinets to hospitals, schools, and hotels in Addis Ababa and Jimma cities. These devices enabled frontline workers to decontaminate rooms and surfaces and recycle masks to keep serving Ethiopians despite PPE shortages. Rescue/Flare provided free ambulance services to save the lives of hundreds of pregnant women in Kenya, who went into labor during strict dusk-to-dawn curfew hours when the movement of people and vehicles was not allowed. Damu Sasa enabled the resumption of blood donation services by mobilizing blood donors and providing a booking service that ensured COVID-19 social distancing rules were observed. This helped hospitals refill blood banks and address critical shortages. Neopenda’s Neowatch device provided remote monitoring of patient vitals (heart rate, temperature, respiratory rate and oxygen concentration) limiting contact between health workers and patients and reducing the risk of COVID-19 infections. Lishe Living created safe virtual spaces for people suffering from non-communicable diseases to continue receiving peer support for monitoring blood sugar, adherence to medication, and other lifestyle management practices to avoid disease progression and improve immunity against infection of COVID-19.
In line with Villgro Africa’s holistic approach to incubation, the COVID-19 portfolio companies were not only given financial support but also provided with a range of services, including diagnostic (expert) panels, mentorship from prominent and experienced leaders, peer networking with like-minded and compatible innovators, and connected with potential strategic partners.
This COVID-19 portfolio has so far generated $1,092,620 in follow-on funding and the portfolio contributed to the creation of 87 jobs. From the original companies awarded, Simbona and Lishe Living will be migrated to the non-COVID-19 portfolio for further incubation support for a period of 1-2 years, and Damu Sasa has received $50,000 in follow-on funding.