Wella Health, Famasi, and Healthtracka are among 29 startups that will receive an equity-free grant of $50,000 from i3, a pan-African initiative focusing on the healthcare supply chain sector.
Now in its second year, the program is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with support from Cencora (formerly AmerisourceBergen), Merck Sharpe & Dohme (MSD), Microsoft, and Chemonics.
In addition to the grant, selected startups will receive investment readiness support from CcHUB, Villgro Africa, IMPACT Lab, and Startupbootcamp Afritech. They also represent 21 African countries, while 38% of the startups are led by women.
"As countries and global health institutions work to expand access to priority products, we face an urgent need to leverage solutions across the public and private sectors to improve health outcomes and strengthen local health systems. Programs like i3 help us understand, support, and engage with technology-driven solutions emerging across Africa, hand-in-hand with our partners," Kieran Daly, Director, Global Health Agencies and Funds at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said in a statement to Techpoint Africa.
For the first cohort, the 31 startups received support to reach 24,000 healthcare facilities across 26 African countries. Through investor matching sessions, nearly 40% raised follow-on funding amounting to $5.4 million.
There's a heavy emphasis on supply chain startups by i3, and Muyi Aina, Principal, Solina Health, confirms that it's intentional.
"It's easier to measure with supply chain companies what you're able to achieve. Based on the lessons we learn, we will then expand outside of [the] supply chain."
While still in its second year, Aina explained that the first cohort reinforced i3's hypothesis that there was a significant funding gap for the healthcare sector.
"One surprise to me is that there's a very robust system [and] a very robust number of innovators in this space at different stages. So it's not for want of people who are trying to do things; it's other things that keep them from reaching the scale that they should reach," he said.
But while there's significant activity going on in the sector, Aina says the first cohort showed a dearth of management capabilities in the founders.
Furthermore, many startups that applied were not ready for external investment. While the focus has been on supply chain startups, he stresses that i3 would like to see more diversity in the business models of startups that apply.
i3 is not the only Gates Foundation-backed initiative targeting the healthcare sector in Africa. In August, 29 African researchers were selected to build artificial intelligence applications for healthcare solutions on the continent.
Such initiatives have ignited conversations about the involvement of the Gates Foundation in Africa, but Aina is more concerned with the solutions this support births.
"I can't help what cynicism or skepticism individuals or groups have. I think i3 is a good program, and for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to invest in it is a positive thing. For many other activities of the foundation that I'm familiar with, they're very altruistic and filling gaps that we are not filling ourselves.
"If others will step up and fund it, why not? So I don't think it's a requirement that one funder, whoever it is, must be the one to do something, but let others step up and do it. You cannot be doing something, somebody steps up to do it and you criticize without base."