Women in Healthcare Innovation: Funmilola Aderemi on Building Pharmarun
Funmilola Aderemi is a product manager with over 9 years of experience in technology. She is currently the co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Pharmarun, a Lagos-based healthtech startup simplifying the parts of pharmacy that are complicated, cumbersome, and time-consuming. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Funmilola talks about her entrepreneurship journey and her passion for building technologies and innovating to make businesses scale. Excerpt.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself?
Funmilola: My name is Funmilola Aderemi and I am the chief product manager and co-founder of Pharmarun. Before founding Pharmarun in 2021, I worked in Seamfix LTD, a cutting-edge tech company focusing on identity management, Jumia Nigeria in the early to hyper-growth days as well as MAX, the first mobility tech company in Nigeria.
As a product manager, I have worked on various projects, from creating new products for existing customers to launching new products for new markets. I have also worked with clients on everything from brand identity to customer experience and product development.
Having started my career in customer experience at Jumia Nigeria gave me the opportunity to develop myself as an excellent problem solver when it comes to finding ways to improve products or services that can benefit both internal customers and external clients.
I enjoy getting out and about with friends and travelling but my favourite thing to really do is work with other people to find solutions to problems. Yes, even in my leisure time, I like to work. I love what I do because it helps me connect with people and solve problems on a level that no other job can.
Alaba: Tell us about Pharmarun – Where, When and how did it start?
Funmilola: Pharmarun is a platform enabling fast and easy access to medication by providing the largest medication and health supply inventory in Africa and aggregating finance and logistics partners so that customers can get medication, when and where they need it.
Pharmarun is actually the brainchild of my co-founder(CEO) and Bestfriend Teniola Adedeji (B.Pharm). She worked in the retail pharmacy space for over 9 years and noticed a huge gap when it came to how people conveniently accessed medication and generally managed their health.
Teniola started this Solo and I worked on it casually with her as a friend before she asked me to come onboard officially only a few months in. We launched July 2021.
Alaba: What products do you offer and how are you funding your growth?
Funmilola: We offer pharmacies alternative revenue lines when they are onboard with us. A 360 pharmaceutical and first aid service to users by providing
- Easy medication purchase. This could be one time or recurring.
- Health management through recurring deliveries, interaction checkers, Home testing,Virtual consultations with licensed professionals
- We offer a range of health bundles.
Alaba: How did you become an innovator in healthcare?
Funmilola: Generally, I like to solve problems. Particularly complex problems. It just excites me. When my cofounder came to me with this problem she was trying to solve, I wanted to contribute as a friend. We just continued to ideate on the problem and possible solutions. Let’s say I fell in love with the problem and became passionate about doing my part to fix it.
Did you know Nigeria has about 5,000 registered pharmacies with almost 50% just in Lagos and Abuja. Someone has to care about the rest of the nation. It’s always about solving a problem for me, and this one is life threatening.
Alaba: Looking more broadly, what are the biggest opportunities and obstacles you see for innovation in the healthcare environment?
Funmilola: Obstacles are challenges one must overcome to find and enjoy opportunities. At the moment I don’t see obstacles, however, we are in a developing nation and infrastructure is a common hindrance to swift/straightforward achievements. However, if I had to mention few bumps that could potentially slow down innovation, it would be as follows infrastructure, policies, Health literacy and education issue and funding
The opportunities are endless, like I said, Nigeria and its surrounding countries are developing nations so there is so much to be done, and the opportunities to solve problems and make money as well are currently endless.
Alaba: How has COVID-19 affected receptiveness for innovation in healthcare?
Funmilola: Covid 19 was a world leveller. It was a dark period that caused people to see the world in a different light because we had no choice. Healthcare is one of the industries that also revolutionised as a result of the pandemic.People become way more receptive to virtual care, investing more in maintaining good health amongst other behavioural changes. Covid 19 forced a validation in innovation in healthcare.
Alaba: The COVID-19 crisis has raised more awareness on health equity issues. What role (if any) do you think innovators should or could play to address health inequities?
Funmilola: Health inequities can be addressed by innovators by developing and implementing technology and solutions that meet the needs of marginalized communities. It can include developing remote-access mobile health solutions, creating community-based mobile health programs and appropriate health education materials, as well as using data and to identify and address disparities in health. Additionally, innovators should work with community leaders and organizations can also help ensure that solutions are designed with the input and participation of the communities they aim to serve. No point building a product the users can not or will not use.
Alaba: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were starting out as an innovator and entrepreneur?
Funmilola: This is an interesting question. I wish I knew that the reception of collaborators will not be automatic. Apparently, it takes a bit of convincing for people to see reason, or want to change.
Alaba: What’s the future for Pharmarun in terms of new products and market expansion
Funmilola: We are constantly innovating and my team is thinking round the clock how to make life easier for people and you create real value with our innovation. We will continue to share as we release new products. What we are most excited about is however, is that we are able to sort the problem of final consumers. You know me & you. No more going around from pharmacy to pharmacy, no more settling for alternative medicine because you can’t find the one that was prescribed. Our platform essentially allows customers access to infinite options of medication to manage their health. We also provide free pharmaceutical consultations and services.
Alaba: There are not a lot of female tech entrepreneurs in digital healthcare. Do you have specific advice for other women wanting to get started working in innovation?
Funmilola: Develop your skills and knowledge: Gain a strong understanding of the healthcare industry, including the key players and current trends. This will help you identify opportunities and develop a unique perspective.
Network and build relationships.
Be resilient: Starting a business can be challenging, and there may be setbacks along the way. Stay committed to your goals and be prepared to adapt as the market and industry evolve.
Embrace your unique perspective: Women often bring a different perspective to the table, and this can be a valuable asset in the healthcare industry. Use your unique experiences and insights to develop innovative solutions and build a successful business.
Seek out mentorship and support: Surround yourself with people who have experience in the field, who can guide you and offer valuable advice.
It’s also important to mention that in recent years, the healthcare innovation ecosystem has been making an effort to make women visible, especially with funding and grants for early-stage ventures. Try looking into those opportunities as well.
Mary Njoki is helping startups tell their stories through Glass House PR
Mary Njoki is the CEO and Founder of Glass House PR, an award-winning pan-African PR firm headquartered in Kenya that offers custom public relations solutions across Africa. She founded Glass House PR in 2012 at the age of 23. Mary has worked with more than 100 organisations, including SMEs/SMBs in Africa, African artists, Facebook, Viber, Paxful, Nissan, and African governments such as Zanzibar and Ethiopia among others through her company, Glass House PR. She has mentored entrepreneurs across Africa through “A Billion Startups, a free mentorship programme that educates entrepreneurs about brand visibility and sustainable development. 11 years after launching Glass House PR, Mary Njoki in this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, shares more on her entrepreneurship journey. Excerpt.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself and your career journey?
Mary: I grew up in Ngarariga village in Limuru. I finished High school at the age of 16, but my mother could not afford to take me to University. I found solace in acting, doing some gigs at the Kenya National Theatre to hone what I thought was a fledgling acting career. A year later I gained admission in the university to study Information Technology at Graffins College. It was while here, I concentrated on coding. I then got a job with an IT firm as a marketer, then later a Business developer. I then moved to another IT firm as a Business Executive.
Here, I started volunteering at K Krew and I gained my first experience in the media which ignited my love for Public Relations. Soon after, I moved into a PR agency and it was in between my jobs where I enrolled for part time classes at Daystar University Majoring on Public Relations.
Alaba: What sparked your interest to go into PR and how did you launch Glass House PR?
Mary: After my two jobs in the IT industry and while working at the PR agency, I discovered more about PR and I was determined to find my purpose. Deep down I knew the future of PR was on Digital media. I resigned, determined to start my own company. Initially I wanted Glass House to be a social Media company as I understood technology. I started Glass House PR with an initial capital of Sh6,000 from my savings, a laptop, an Internet modem and tons of optimism.
Starting the company was not easy and the first year of business I did a lot of pro-bono jobs but I learnt alot. I then realized that there was a lot of groundwork needed for my company to gain establishment in the industry. I was a member of Business Networking International (BNI) when I was employed and this network and skills also became my capital. Presently, I have worked with tech giants like Viber,Facebook Paxful,Walt Disney Africa among others.
Alaba: What services does your company offer?
Mary: We are a Pan-African PR Agency, offering PR strategies, media relations and management, digital media communications, event management, we are a whole 360 PR agency that help brands tell their stories through different channels to their audiences.
Alaba: Before venturing into entrepreneurship, what lessons did you pick as an employee?
Mary: I have worked with SMEs, directly working with the founders, I learned and picked different lessons which actually formed the basis of the name Glass House PR. There used to be a lack of communication between us and the management, lack of transparency, and over time one realizes you do not need to share everything with everyone. But I felt that was lacking, and from that I learnt that when I start a business, I have to ensure that there is clear communication with all the public that I am dealing with. Working with millennials and GenZ, I realized the importance of employees’ inclusion, sharing with them the vision and allowing them to see themselves in it. After I resigned is when I realized I was just an employee and I was never included.
Alaba: What lessons have you learnt as a female entrepreneur?
Mary: I have learnt that growth is a process that takes time. Keep discovering and learning every day. Becoming a leader is a process, one has to build a community they can learn from, also lead and leave a positive impact on. I have learnt to walk in wisdom and be more discerning, I have learnt to have boundaries and while disrupting the PR industry, I have previously worked through naivety, which is the major challenge women go through but grown out of it. For one to keep growing, one has to communicate their vision while bringing others onboard.
Alaba: Could you share some of your accomplishments so far?
Mary: I have worked with more than 100 organizations, including SMEs/SMBs in Africa, African artists, etc. I have also mentored entrepreneurs across Africa through “A Billion Startups, a free mentorship programme that educates entrepreneurs about brand visibility and sustainable development. I have spearheaded the conversation of the future of finance in Africa through the annual ADFS summit “The Africa Digital Finance Summit”, which is held in conjunction with governments, regulators, start-ups, and thought leaders from around the world in the digital finance and decentralized finance industries. I have won several awards locally and internationally.
Alaba: How has Glass House PR impacted society?
Mary: I came up with a billion startups, we are yet to grow it to where it’s supposed to be. It is a platform where we have been mentoring entrepreneurs and we hope to do more across the world. Glass house PR intends to help these startups tell their stories, get their market share and learn how to position their brands to their audiences. We have also spearheaded certain conversations in the society like the “The future of finance in Africa” through African Digital finance summit; to redefine value exchange in Africa, inviting governments, regulators, stakeholders and private sectors to discuss this.
Alaba: What’s next for Glass house?
Mary: We are getting into a lot of content production and content marketing. We hope to be part of the people who will shape the future of media and how the future of decentralized media will look like.
Alaba: What is your source of inspiration?
Mary: I draw my inspirations from God, I have learnt from him over the years through practice. Everything I do, people or companies I bring on board, things I walk away from, I seek God’s guidance. Any mistake in the past has become a lesson that I have learnt from as a leader.
Alaba: Any advice to someone who wants to venture into PR and entrepreneurship ?
Mary: Pursuing a career in PR can be a rewarding and exciting career choice for those interested in telling authentic brand stories.
Deraya entrepreneurship initiative to boost job creation in Libya
Young entrepreneurs in Libya face many challenges, including accessing markets and financial resources, and navigating regulations and administrative procedures. The Deraya initiative is designed to equip entrepreneurs with the essential know-how to turn innovative ideas into successful startups. The initiative was jointly developed by the Ministry of Local Government (MoLG), and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in collaboration with the European Union (EU) and the African Development Bank (AfDB).
Targeting youth and vulnerable groups, Deraya is open to innovative and aspiring entrepreneurs aged between 18 and 35. Through interactive webinars, the initiative’s participants will be given an opportunity to engage with experienced entrepreneurs, subject matter experts, and role models from Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia and learn from their success stories, wealth of knowledge, and expertise. The initiative will also entail startup weekends in Tripoli, Benghazi, Sebha, and Derna, culminating with a pitch competition where the winning startups will receive financial support, financed by EU and AfDB, to further develop, grow, and take their business ideas to the next level. As a critical step towards sustainability, entrepreneurs will be linked to the municipal business incubators being set up with MoLG with UNDP’s technical support.
Commenting on the launch of the programme, Dr. Bader Al-Deen Al-Tomi, Minister of Local Government, said: “The Deraya initiative plays a pivotal role in the Ministry of Local Government’s strategy to develop entrepreneurship and micro-enterprises at the local level, empower municipalities economically, and provide job opportunities in line with Law 592 and Resolution 15003. We are delighted to work towards these goals in cooperation with our international partners, EU, AfDB and UNDP.”
EU Ambassador Mr. José Sabadell added: “Libya’s economic prosperity will be driven by young entrepreneurs with innovative, forward-looking ideas. They will be the key to a more diversified Libyan economy, a strong private sector and new jobs. Together with our Libya and international partners, the European Union therefore seeks to offer strong and concrete support to young Libyan entrepreneurs, to realise their business ideas.”
Mr Mohamed El Azizi, Regional Director for North Africa at the African Development Bank, further commented: “Private sector development is key to boosting economic diversification and job creation in Libya. Supporting the trajectory of young Libyan men and women to develop and grow their start-ups has enormous socio-economic potential and will contribute to job creation. It is also important to ensure an adequate business enabling environment and institutional support. The EEYES project, financed by the AfDB through the Youth Entrepreneurship and Innovation Multidonor Trust Fund, and implemented by UNDP, supports these components.”
UNDP Resident Representative, Mr. Marc-André Franche, said: “Libya has a new generation of young people, women and men, with promising capacity and big ambitions. The country has the potential to be one of the biggest entrepreneurial ecosystems in North Africa, and through the Deraya programme, UNDP seeks to help inspire and provide young entrepreneurs with the necessary resources and assets to realise growth and innovation.”
The Deraya programme is part of UNDP’s Local Peacebuilding and Resilience efforts in partnership with MoLG, aimed at creating socio-economic opportunities for youth and vulnerable groups to promote sustainable growth in Libya, including the establishment of the first Municipality-led business incubator and the TEC+ Accelerator programme.
The Deraya initiative, co-funded by AfDB and EU, is designed and implemented in collaboration with a consortium consisting of Flat6Labs, Tatweer Research and MAZAM, bringing in years of experience and specialized knowledge in helping young entrepreneurs launch successful ventures in both the Middle East & Africa regions.
Senegalese Agripreneur says digital marketing key to luxury tea startup success
Senegalese businesswoman Adja Sembene Fall said she had no choice but to launch her start-up business online because her new Contanna fair-trade tea company only had $200 to its name.
“Due to lack of finance, it was not possible to get a physical shop. We started out in the backyard of my brother’s house. We sold our teas via social media for three years,” said Fall. She says her line of luxury brand tea products is about more than taste. Fall says Contanna teas sell a “Senegalese experience” that promotes a women-owned, 100% locally sourced and processed product based on recipes infusing family and cultural traditions.
“Digitizing our buying process was really important. We were also able to present and adjust packaging of our product online, [to emphasize] it was premium and different from what was available in Senegal,” the 29-year-old added.
Contanna says its first year of operations, a focus on Instagram and its website drew $5,000 in online sales. As the online business grew, Fall said, Contanna hit $12,000 in sales and established a community of around 2,000 clients.
Contanna recently opened a pop-up stall at Dakar’s Sea Plaza shopping mall. In January, it was named a winner of the African Development Bank’s AgriPitch Competition, which supports African youth agripreneurs by improving their business bankability and ensuring that they are “pitch ready” for potential investors.
The 2022 AgriPitch competition, which started last October, received nearly 750 complete entries from entrepreneurs in the agriculture sector – or “agripreneurs” – from 38 African countries. The judging panel comprised women- led enterprise support advisory firm, Private Equity Support; the Private Financing Advisory Network, a global network of climate and clean energy financing experts; and EldoHub, an education, innovation, and technology organization targeting youth and women.
The competition, which this year awarded $140,000 in prizes, is a key activity of the Bank’s ENABLE Youth Program.
“African youth have great ideas. It was exciting to see the high level of innovation and passion from these young agripreneurs, particularly the large number of women-owned enterprises like Contanna,” said Edson Mpyisi, the Bank’s Chief Financial Economist and ENABLE Youth Coordinator.
AgriPitch organizers selected 25 semi-finalists, 68% of them women-owned or led businesses, to attend a two-week business development virtual boot camp. The boot camp culminated in a pitch session to judges, who chose 9 agripreneurs to advance to the finals.
“I was pitching in front of my shop – where customers were passing by. They were so encouraging when they discovered that [my business] is a 100% Senegalese company and especially that the founder was a woman,” said Fall. She received $25,000 as the winner in the AgriPitch competition women-owned business category.
Fall says she’ll use part of the prize money to upgrade a digital payment system and for computers and digital skills training for Contanna employees, all women.
“We don’t eschew hiring men. The women were first to apply and were qualified. They currently log their work production and stock building in paper books. We are training them to build capacity to use Google Sheets [and other digital software],” Fall said.
Contanna and the two-dozen other competition finalists will retain access to the AgriPitch “deal room” to avail of post-competition digital expertise, business development, and investor engagement.
“We look forward to working closely with the entrepreneurs in the coming months through individual business advisory support and investor engagement in the deal room,” said Diana Gichaga, Managing Partner at Private Equity Support.
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