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$7 million Investing in Innovation (i3) fund launched for African health tech start-ups

Healthcare consulting firm Salient Advisory has launched its latest market intelligence report highlighting promising African healthtech start-ups in supply chain. Spurred by these findings, a consortium of global and continental organizations, with funding from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are pleased to announce 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 resilience 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, are launching 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.

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Applications for the first cohort of 30 companies are open now, at www.innovationsinafrica.com. 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.”

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To download the full market intelligence report, please click here.

Start-ups working in health product distribution across Africa are invited to apply for the program at http://innovationsinafrica.com/  

About Salient Advisory

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. https://www.salientadvisory.com/ 

About SCIDaR

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. https://scidar.org/ 

About Southbridge A&I

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. https://south-bridge.com/ 

About Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. https://www.gatesfoundation.org/ 

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About AmerisourceBergen

AmerisourceBergen is a global leader in the development and distribution of healthcare products.  In addition to distribution and logistics, AmerisourceBergen helps pharma manufacturers bring their products to market, assisting with each step from pre-commercial to broad-market availability. https://www.amerisourcebergen.com/ 

About Merck Sharp & Dohme

MSD is a global leader in biopharmaceutical research and manufacturing, dedicated to using the power of leading-edge science to save and improve lives around the world. https://www.msd.com/ 

About AUDA-NEPAD

AUDA-NEPAD is the Africa Union development agency, tasked with coordinating and executing priority regional and continental development projects to promote regional integration towards the accelerated realization of Agenda 2063 – Africa’s vision and action plan. https://www.nepad.org/ 

About the World Health Organization

(WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations, which is a coordinating authority on international health, and provides leadership on global health matters, shapes the health research and innovation agenda, sets health norms and standards, articulates evidence-based policy options, provides technical support to countries, and monitors and assesses health trends. Through its Regional Office for Africa and at Country level (including through its Country Offices), WHO aims to promote and assist Member States in strengthening their capacities to scale up health innovations in Africa. https://www.afro.who.int/

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