$7 million innovator support program targets Africa’s e-health startups in supply chain 

The pan-African “Investing in Innovation” program will provide grants and commercialization support to 60 health-tech companies over two years.

The launch of the funding program coincides with the release of Salient Advisory’s latest market intelligence report which highlights the activities of promising African e-health (or health tech) startups working to develop supply chain solutions.

Spurred by these findings, a consortium of global and continental organizations, with funding from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have announced the launch of a pan-African initiative to support companies’ impact, access to markets and commercialization.

Salient’s report, titled ‘Innovations in Digitising Distribution of Health Products’, highlights more than 80 healthtech innovators in Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, and Nigeria. Tech-enabled approaches to digitizing medicine distribution to underserved pharmacies, drug shops, clinics and hospitals, pioneered by companies such as Lifestores, Maisha Meds and Shelf Life, recorded rapid growth in the past year, mirroring trends seen in B2B e-commerce on the African continent. Innovators are also demonstrating an increasing interest in powering rural supply chains, improving availability of medicines, and bolstering resiliency of supply chain operations.

Investor interest has also been strong; 36% of all-time funding reported by health care supply chain innovators profiled was raised in the last 12 months. However, exclusionary funding trends remain entrenched: only 2% of recent funding was raised by Black, women founders, a total of just $1.6 million in 2021.

Inspired by the progress and potential of African innovators in supply chain, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, alongside Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD), the World Health Organisation Regional Office for Africa, AUDA-NEPAD and AmerisourceBergen, have launched a $7 million pan-African initiative to provide 60 promising early and growth-stage companies with risk-tolerant grants alongside commercialization support to power their impact at scale. The program, called Investing in Innovation (i3), is coordinated by Salient Advisory, SCIDaR, and SouthBridge A&I and is operationalized with CCHub,  Startupbootcamp, IMPACT Lab, and Villgro Africa. Applications for the first cohort of 30 companies are now open. Applications will close in mid-August.

Cheikh Oumar Seydi, Director, Africa, at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, commented: “African health innovators have shown increasing capacity to leverage technology to optimize supply chains and advance access to medicines. Such local innovations have the potential to change how supply chains and health systems function – and it is time to support them. We are pleased to be collaborating with strong global and continental partners to jointly strengthen African health systems and accelerate progress towards universal health coverage.”

Dr Abdullahi Sheriff, AVP, Global Market Access, Sustainable Access Solutions at MSD also commented: “There has been considerable progress in tech-driven innovation in health product distribution across Africa. Spurring and scaling disruptive innovation in health supply chain is key to expanding access to medicines for all. That’s why we, at MSD, are excited to collaborate on the i3 program.”

Dr Janet Byaruhanga, Senior Programme Officer – Health at AUDA-NEPAD also commented: “The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the capacity of African innovators to leverage tech enabled solutions to transform medicine distribution. AUDA-NEPAD will continue to leverage its mandate and comparative advantage to foster partnerships that strengthen evidence, deploy innovation, enhance policy environments and facilitate critical investments, while creating valuable and high-impact jobs across the continent.”

Speaking on the launch of the report and i3 program, Director of Salient Advisory, Remi Adeseun said: “There has been considerable progress over the past year as supply chain innovations work to enhance access to quality medicines. Our report provides investors, donors, and governments with actionable recommendations on engagement strategies to advance companies’ growth and impact. With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and along with our esteemed partners, we are excited to be launching the Investing in Innovation program to connect promising companies to customers who can power their impact and scale.”

Launched in 2020 with a globally distributed team in Kenya, Nigeria and Canada, Salient Advisory helps changemakers enact transformative approaches to health. The company conducts analysis and supports partnerships to use technology and innovations, adapt policy and financing, and elevate unheard voices to change global conversations and transform access to care.

SCIDaR is an indigenous, Nigeria-based health systems consulting and implementation non-profit organization that works with governments, development organizations, and the private sector to optimize population health outcomes. It applies proven business and market shaping techniques and utilizes its relationships and understanding of Africa’s public and private sector health system actors to ensure sustainable impact.

Southbridge A&I is an important player in the strategic, operational, and financial consulting of economic and social operators on the African continent. Intervening in the definition of sectoral policies, the transformation of public companies, and the support of private actors of various sizes, Southbridge A&I creates bridges between stakeholders to maximize the socioeconomic impact of its interventions. Alongside its consulting work, Southbridge A&I has developed an investment branch to support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups with significant growth potential.


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