It is safe to assume that many business ideas come from the experiences of the entrepreneurs or people they know. For instance, the demise of a loved one inspired the concept for Healthtracka, a Nigerian healthtech startup.
The co-founder and CEO of Chekker, another Nigerian healthtech startup, also got the idea for the business after his mother's long wait for a laboratory test.
To further illustrate my point, Sam Baddoo, CEO of healthtech startup, Fleri, says that in business, the problem to solve chooses the entrepreneur or the entrepreneur selects the issue to solve.
His claim stems from the understanding that unless a person has first-hand experience or is very close to a situation, they can’t fully understand its implications.
As an immigrant, Baddoo is aware of some of the dangers and challenges that immigrants face in the US and countries in North Africa.
He was born and raised in Ghana and, after secondary school, moved to Morocco on a United Nation's scholarship where he spent the next five years studying French and Arabic.
Baddoo first became aware of immigration as a significant global issue during his time in Morocco while volunteering for Comité d'Entraide Internationale, a non-profit that assists stranded immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa.
There, he met people who had emigrated for several reasons, including seeking a better life. Some risked their lives crossing the desert on foot, others travelled in boats that capsized. Globally, many immigrants sell their properties in their home countries in search of a better life.
He returned to Ghana five years later, where he spent the next four years building two businesses with some friends.
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He eventually left the businesses and moved to the US, where he worked multiple jobs and sent money home to meet many needs, including his family's medical care. Sadly, his country's broken healthcare system contributed to the deaths of his uncle in 2018, grandfather in 2020, and grandmother in 2021.
How Fleri chose Sam Baddoo
Fleri is the Haitian Creole word for "flourish". Baddoo says he chose that because the country’s economy relies on remittances.
In the past decade, Haiti has become one of the world's most reliant countries on remittances. Immigrant transfers increased from 12% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2012 to more than 25% in 2022, or approximately $3.5 billion.
Fleri's goal is for immigrants in the diaspora to flourish, moving them from just surviving to thriving in their chosen paths, starting with healthcare.
Having lost family members, Baddoo was inspired to start Fleri in 2020.
In Baddoo's grandmother's case, the problem was not an unavailability of funds but a lack of trust in the healthcare system. He thinks she would have gotten better care if she had gone to the hospital as advised instead of using the money he sent home to visit a traditional healer.
This loss, he says, will always hurt him the most.
"Immigrants go through so much to get to where they are, and what we hope to do on our end is empower them to make the most of the opportunity and reap the benefits of the difficult circumstances they endured to get where they are.
“Having lived here [the US] and been primarily responsible for my family in Ghana, those challenges are not unique to me. I understand them very well. And so, when you keep experiencing something repeatedly, you have two options: continue to go through it or decide to do something about it."
Consequently, he decided to assist other immigrants to provide better care for their loved ones without jeopardising their financial future. In 2021, he launched Fleri.
Fleri wants immigrants' loved ones back home to flourish
Providing an alternative to sending cash home for medical expenses, Fleri is a migrant family care platform that helps people who have moved abroad find and manage healthcare access for their loved ones back home.
Immigrants in North America, including the US and Canada, and the UK, can buy health insurance plans for their loved ones for as little as $120 a year.
Once they sign up as members, they can add as many loved ones as they are accountable for as beneficiaries in their home countries: Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mali, Senegal, Algeria, Nigeria, and Ghana.
Consider it a form of health insurance where you add your spouse and children to a health insurance plan, but the primary distinction with Fleri is that the person who registers their loved ones are in diaspora.
"What you get is a family care manager who will look after your loved ones and check in with them every two weeks. We give each beneficiary an assigned primary carer with whom they can ask questions and schedule medical appointments."
Given that the member might have multiple family members spread out across different locations, the family care manager calls and checks in with their loved ones via WhatsApp instead of paying them a visit every fortnight.
Carers provide guidance and establish preventative care routines. The business offers care coordination services, including consultations and specialist meetings. Also, Baddoo maintains that Fleri takes all the necessary steps to ensure the members’ loved ones receive the care they require.
Fleri sends monthly beneficiary wellness reports to every beneficiary a member adds. It has a health emergency fund that enables the company to pay for an emergency in advance. The immigrant has roughly 14 days to repay at zero interest. Baddoo says this is available to members because they are paying-subscribers.
Not every beneficiary has the same medical issues or life circumstances, so some might require more than preventative care. Consequently, members can use its health marketplace to find a suitable care plan for their loved ones, including Mental Health, Chronic Care, Elderly, At-Home, and Emergency Responses.
Fleri collaborates with several health maintenance organisations (HMOs) and healthtech companies in these African nations, including Tangerine Africa, Reliance Health, AXA Mansard, MyCover.ai, and WellaHealth. It also works with financial partners to manage escrow and payments to healthcare providers.
This service is accessible online and has a help desk potential customers can call to have an employee walk them through the process.
Scaling in a competitive market
DiaspoCare, a Minnesota-based healthtech company, is one of Fleri's many international competitors; it is also up against local competition. The platform facilitates seamless care between Africans who have moved abroad and their families and carers back home. Immigrants purchase vouchers for their relatives in Kenya, Nigeria, and Ghana.
Nigerian healthtech startup, WellaHealth, introduced HealthSend in June 2023 as a subsidiary, allowing Nigerians living abroad to send money home. They can use the service to top up a website wallet system and pay for many healthcare services the company offers for their family members back home. Clafiya, a Nigerian healthtech startup, offers a similar product.
Like other similar businesses, Fleri knows that customers send money for many reasons, including healthcare. So, it eliminates the need for family members to receive care primarily through financial transfers by developing products and crucial partnerships that directly enable the required care.
However, Baddoo maintains that Fleri stands out because it focuses on immigrants rather than just healthcare, emphasising that it understands their challenges and develops novel solutions.
He says the startup has a unique strategy, stating that its non-transactional approach to customer engagement entails enrolling these immigrants as members. It then leverages their relationship to provide the care they need rather than forcing them to accept a specific type of care.
Fleri believes that its customers, not the company, determine their needs. It, therefore, collaborates with them to help them access their families’ needs, ensuring customer satisfaction.
“If it is a surgery, Fleri can assist you in covering it. We can also help you cover it if you need to travel to another country for medical treatment or if it’s a referral to another provider or medication.”
The company has received funding from several investors, including Village Capital, ODBA, Launch Africa, Techstars, and Founders Factory Africa.
Expanding in the face of challenges
Remittances are typically transfers between individuals. They generally refer to money immigrants send home to support their families, which helps to alleviate poverty and improve well-being.
While Baddoo points out that immigrants are used to sending money home to pay for healthcare, it can be challenging to build the trust and credibility necessary to convince people to change their habits and do something new, like adding their loved ones as beneficiaries.
Although this is the company's greatest challenge, it plans to improve over time as it increases marketing and educates more people to raise awareness.
Meanwhile, over 4,000 members use the platform, and it plans to more than double the number, approaching 10,000 members, by the end of 2023.
With its team spread across several countries, including Ghana, Nigeria, the UK, the US, and Barbados, the company plans to expand from 18 to over 20 employees before the end of the year.
The startup intends to launch Fleri for Businesses and Communities before 2023 ends. These offerings will enable it to collaborate with immigrant community organisations like businesses, churches, and other associations, which will lower the cost of the annual membership for their members.
This move will help Fleri reach as many people as possible, relieving them of the stress and responsibility of caring for their loved ones. It also plans to expand into more African countries before the end of the year.