Having always been a particularly curious person with a love for understanding how things worked, Nicole Kayode studied Natural Sciences: Organic Chemistry & Biomedical Science at University College London and did an MSc in Biomed, focused on cardiology research. After her studies, her options were to stay in the medical research world or leave her comfort zone and try her hand at business. She went for the latter and found herself in the world of tech startups after spending some time in Zambia doing business consulting.
Her path would lead to a healthcare tech startup, which was focused on solving the staffing crisis that the NHS in England is currently experiencing by making finding temporary staff seamless and inexpensive. It was in this role that her desire to combine a passion for healthcare with her love of entrepreneurship was solidified and the seed for her medical technology venture, Medixus, was planted.
How did you meet your co-founder? What makes you two a good team?
I met my co-founder, Rita Mantler, in an online community for women in tech called Ada’s List. Rita has many years experience building apps, and has made a successful business from doing it for other people, so she brings the experience and technical know how and I bring the sector knowledge and business strategy.
We also are very fortunate in that we’ve got a great dynamic (and actually really like each other…I think) – we both enjoy a bit of sarcasm and humour to get through the very challenging business of building a startup from scratch. Perhaps most importantly, we are both borderline obsessive about how we can use technology to impact lives in a meaningful way.
What sparked the idea for Medixus? And, which countries in Africa will you be starting with?
I had the idea for Medixus a few years ago after someone close to me received inadequate treatment because their doctor was overworked and under supported. I also noticed the pervasive lack of patient trust in our own health care systems because of incidents like this. I realised this story was all too common amongst my family and friends from all over Africa and better communication was a way to address this.
We have a common problem, which I believe is not to do with African doctors not being ‘good enough’ – I think we have many highly capable doctors (it’s a myth I’m keen to dispel with Medixus). Instead, I think the problem is largely rooted in the fact that we are lacking enough doctors across the continent. So those we do have, tend to be overworked and restricted in the number of places they can turn for a second opinion on a case.
The idea was born, that every doctor on the continent should be able to connect with another African doctor to collaborate on patient cases. They should no longer feel alone due to the current situation of understaffing, but instead have a pan-African support network of peers to connect with. This will translate into real time improvements in patient care and clinical outcomes, which we hope will save lives.
We will be running the pilot of our app in Kenya initially, with hopes to expand to other countries on the continent over the subsequent months.
What were the first steps for you to get Medixus off the ground?
Before Rita came on board, the first thing I did was testing the idea with some doctors while I was working in Zambia. I wanted to make sure that my ‘gut instinct’ was right – would this be something healthcare workers found useful? In between consulting, I worked on writing a version one of the business plan: what would this look like? What is my market? Who will this impact?
By the time I came back home, I made a website and an online form which I tested with my sister (who is a doctor) and some of her friends. Over time it became clear from the early feedback that a desktop, long winded form was not going to cut it – and I decided we needed an app. But first, I needed to do more robust ‘market validation’ so I surveyed as many doctors online as I could to make sure I had understood their pain points, and whatever solution we built helped address this.
What is your impression of the Kenyan healthcare system? Any personal experiences you’d like to share?
The Kenyan healthcare system, like any, has its challenges. However, what most strikes me is the innovation and positive movement toward change that is coming out of the country.
You have organisations like the Kenya Medical Association, run by Dr. Stella Bosire, who are making strides in supporting the doctors and dentists across the country, providing access to CPD materials and forming outward looking partnerships with other medical bodies across the world.
It is clear, however, that there are challenges in terms of accessibility and affordability of care, as well as the large disparity in conditions between public and private hospitals. Although, you do have interesting organisations, like m-Tiba, trying to address this problem from a different angle.
Another challenge that is clear is the political situation and working conditions of doctors and nurses. It is important we continue to champion fair, timely pay and improvements in infrastructure. Yet, I am always heartened when I speak to doctors, particularly those working in the public sector. Despite these challenging conditions, you hear of their passion and desire to give their patients the best care possible in the face of limited infrastructure and professional support.
So to sum up, my impression of the healthcare system in Kenya is: “not without it’s challenges, but full of promise and positive change driven by those working within it”
What is the most challenging part of launching a med-tech startup?
With med-tech, often your ultimate end goal is an emotive one: to save lives. You have to keep this in sight with every choice you make, without getting too bogged down by the gravity of your vision.
This grand vision often makes it really difficult to pare back the features you want to build in the first version, so a big challenge for has been figuring out ‘of all these things we want to build, which will be the most impactful for version one?’ – you have to be ruthlessly honest with yourself when asking this question. It’s also about realising that you need to maintain laser focus on the problem you want to fix and not allowing yourself to get distracted.
You also must to make sure you have a deep understanding of the healthcare sector in each country you launch in, because despite common Western tripes, Africa is not a monolith!
Each country has unique challenges and ways of working, even if there are some commonalities in the base challenges we face.
What’s next for Medixus? Can you tell us a little about your go-to-market strategy?
We are kicking off our pilot this month in Kenya where we hope to get ongoing feedback from our first group of users. We will use this to iterate on the application functionality and improve it for the official launch.
We are keen to get buy in from hospitals, who want to roll this out with their doctors as a method of offering them ongoing mobile support. If you are a doctor, or decision maker in a hospital then please do get in touch to find out how you can get early access to the app: firstname.lastname@example.org – we’d love to hear from you!
Learn more on their website: www.medixus.co.uk