Finalist at the Visa CEMEA Everywhere Initiative and Managing Director, CarePay, Abayomi Sule, shares his experience as a tech startup providing solutions in the health sector and his emergence as finalist in the Visa competition. Emma Okonji brings the excerpts:
How will you describe the Visa Everywhere initiative programme, where tech startups like CarePay was given the opportunity to pitch their technology driven ideas and solutions?
The Visa Everywhere Initiative is an open innovation programme that helps startups unlock new growth and partnership opportunities. It also provides startups with a global platform to demonstrate their ground-breaking solutions. The process associated with the 2022 CEMEA regional finals was transparent and well organized. It was a delight for us at CarePay to have been selected as “Audience favourite” at the 2022 CEMEA regional finals.
How will such initiative from Visa help enhance the Nigerian Fintech ecosystem, especially in today’s world of digital transformation?
Visa is a global brand hence any initiative with the Visa imprimatur gives participating technology companies especially finalists and winners significant brand equity. It is noteworthy that about 450 fintechs of the over 1300 entries came from Nigeria and two Nigeria-based Fintechs were shortlisted among the five finalists with both participating Nigerian Fintechs taking home two of the three prizes up for grab at the finals. I think the significant participation and success of Nigerian Fintechs underscores the potential and impact of Nigerian innovators and the versatility and diversity of the Nigerian Fintech ecosystem. I expect that it will further buttress the attention and interest of local and foreign investors in supporting Nigerian Fintech players.
You were one of only five finalists chosen from more than 1,300 participants in the Visa CEMEA Everywhere Initiative. As a Nigerian startup, what exactly gave you an edge over the 1,300+ participants?
I think our pitch and proposition were unique. We put forward our innovative healthcare merchant offers programme, which is probably the first of its kind in Nigeria and West Africa. The proposition allows subscribers enjoy discounts up to 37.5 per cent on their healthcare expenses at point of service across hundreds of healthcare merchants in Nigeria. The product has benefits to multiple stakeholders in the healthcare financing and payment ecosytem. We positioned the healthcare discount product as an enterprise loyalty benefit product which can drive affordability of healthcare services for Visa cardholders and drive increased revenues and brand equity for collaborating healthcare merchants, Visa partner banks and fintechs. Notably as well, in the post-pandemic era healthcare is a contemporary issue which requires all brands to do whatever they can to protect their employee and customers’ lives and livelihoods – the healthcare merchant offers allows Visa and her partners to demonstrate their support and commitment to their customers/cardholders in this regard. In particular, the proposition and pitch must have struck a chord with the audience who voted us as the “Audience favourite” at the 2022 CEMEA finals.
Tell us more about CarePay solution, how it started, the challenges and the success stories from inception?
Carepay is an aggregator of healthcare services for insured and uninsured individuals and households. CarePay exists to ensure that everyone, everywhere can afford the healthcare services they need. We want to provide everyone with a health cover. We innovated the healthcare merchants offers programme based on feedback from non-insured prospects which indicated they were undecided about health insurance and preferred to pay out-of-pocket. So, we engaged with healthcare merchants (pharmacies, clinics, medical laboratories and hospitals) to negotiate discounts off their standard pricing, which we aggregate, coordinate and pass on to subscribers and enterprises who partner with us. The greatest challenge was convincing tier 1 healthcare merchants to give us significant discounts on their standard pricing. Since launch we have seen significant uptake by individuals, households, and enterprises such as fintechs, banks and pension funds. The enterprises pass on the discounts to their customers as loyalty benefits to drive customer retention and increased use of their products especially debit or credit cards.
Startups pass through a lot of huddles and challenges, before arriving at a solution that has real commercial values in the eyes of investors. How many times have you failed as a tech entrepreneur and what has been your motivating factor to succeed?
Failure is the breakfast of champions. It is part of the process of success in entrepreneurship. I have had several failed ventures and projects. Slow growth of our allied business lines inspired us to engage with our non-customers and healthcare merchants who gave us insights into the drivers of their non-consumption of health insurance products. These insights led us to develop the healthcare discount card product.
My motivating factor to succeed has been the persisting drive to ensure that every Nigerian has access to the healthcare they need regardless of their financial status.
Most tech startups will always say that finance is a great challenge towards achieving any form of success, but the investors who are willing to invest in startups, think otherwise. What is your take on this?
In our environment, the greatest obstacle is probably the time it takes to achieve product-market fit. The most important resource is the idea/product, which solves a social problem. If that product idea can solve/alleviate the problem of a significant number of people who are willing to pay partially or fully for the product, then the entrepreneur or startup has achieved product-market fit. Entrepreneurs and startups need resilience, resourcefulness and agility to press on or pivot until that product-market fit is achieved.
How will you describe Africa’s growth in startup development, when compared with startups in developed countries of the world?
The development of the startups in Africa has been phenomenal. The rise of several unicorns in Nigeria and across Africa in the last five years attests to the development of the African startup ecosystem. These African unicorn startups are solving social problems and creating jobs and wealth at scale. Given that most countries in Africa are low-income economies, the average African startup is nimble, agile, and cost focused to serve the most people at the least cost. These startups have attracted a significant flow of foreign direct investment into the African economies as well. The African startup ecosystem might be nascent, but it is creating impact comparable to those in developed countries.
How can startup like CarePay contribute towards job and wealth creation of a nation?
Our goal at CarePay is to ensure that people stay healthy or are restored to a state of good health with the most effective and efficient financial and payment means. We therefore help people to conserve their income by avoiding catastrophic expenditure on sickness. Our customers can be more productive at work, or they can earn more through investment of their financial resources and time which they might have otherwise spent on ill-health. We also work with healthcare merchants to grow their businesses through our demand aggregation products and liquidity products which provide them with access to working capital and asset financing. When the healthcare merchants earn more, they hire more medical and non-medical employees.
Since the success of M-TIBA in Kenya, CarePay has opened its headquarters in Amsterdam to facilitate the international expansion of the platform to other countries, starting with Nigeria and Tanzania. How many countries do you think you can cover in the next five years?
We are poised to operate in at least five to 10 countries in the next five years. We have considerations to operate in additional African countries and we are actively exploring expansions to the Middle East, Europe, Latin America and Asia.
Who is your role model, and what makes you unique and different from other startups?
I have several role models however I would like to recognize one of them – Onno Schellekens, Group CEO at CarePay. I admire his impact before profit orientation. He is an effective mobiliser of human and financial resources who has been investing in African health systems and supporting African healthcare entrepreneurs for about two decades. He is also a dreamer and doer who never gives up. I am fortunate to work with him and others at CarePay.
I find CarePay to be a unique startup as we are a multicultural organisation. We are also innovative and customer-centric in developing innovative mass market products, which make it easy and convenient for people to access and pay for healthcare services efficiently and conveniently.