Can You PharmSee The Future?

Can You PharmSee The Future?


Winning The Big Prize


[Part 5 in a series of 6. Read Part 1 here.]

Up until now, we have talked about the participants, mentors, and partners of our West Africa hackathon. We think it’s time to give some facetime to the grand prize winner of Hack Africa!

The future of Africa lies in its talented people and emerging entrepreneurial system. We cannot deny the importance they will play on the world stage.This is why we were in West Africa running our hackathon program. It is of utmost importance to invest in them now and give them the guidance and support they need.

All of the teams in attendance tackled the key issues under the categories of: Design & Technology, Healthcare, and Education. Teams worked and competed hard nonstop, sometimes even through the night, to have their innovations recognized by the judging panel. There was a primary winner in each category. However, in the end there could only be one grand prize winner.

Team PharmSee took top honors for their work in the Healthcare category. This was no easy accomplishment with only two team members: Iyke Owoh and Laud Bentil. Finding needed medications that are non-expired and legitimately distributed is very hard in African regions, especially in the poorer, rural areas. PharmSee built a pharmaceutical search engine which allows users to search for much needed medications and provides the location of the nearest pharmacy which has stock. For their efforts, they were awarded a 1 year scholarship at Hub Accra and admission to Global Hackathon Seoul.

We recently had a chance to catch up with Iyke Owoh, co-founder of Pharmsee, to get his thoughts on the emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem in West Africa and what drives him as an entrepreneur.

An Interview With Iyke Owoh (Team PharmSee)

What drove your team to tackle the healthcare pharmaceutical issue?ikw-1

When I first came to Accra, I met a friend Sash. Sasha owns a dog, one day she was playing with her dog and it bit her. It took her two days to find the drugs she needed. Laud and I felt it was too long a time and it could have been bad if the situation needed some urgency. So, we started some investigating and we realized others had the same issue. Some people would give up looking for a particular drug or sought an alternative because they could not find what they wanted. We have been in situations ourselves where we found it quite difficult to find drugs, but we did not know everyone else had that problem. So we decided to find a solution.

What drives you as an entrepreneur?

Anything that helps people solve everyday problems and improves their quality of life, along with anything that is challenging enough with an opportunity for me to learn new technologies and processes. I have a deep craving to tackle big challenges and turn the solutions into a reality. This really is what keeps me going.

What was the team’s reaction when you found out you were the overall winner?

Ha! We were ecstatic! We had a sense that we did well in our product pitch because some people told us we had a strong pitch. We felt that if we were lucky we could finish best in the health category. But we did not at all imagine we would be overall winners. We were too shocked to jump around, we were trying in vain to soak in the realization that just the previous day we only wanted to get a good sleep at home and then the next thing is being told we were are going to South Korea!

What are your future plans as an entrepreneur?

Learn. As quickly and as much as I possibly can. MEST has really provided a very decent and encouraging environment for all learning processes in software entrepreneurship. Hopefully, we want to launch PharmSee sometime in May so we can begin to understand how the market will react to the product, and iterate with validated learning. I want to influence lives positively. I want to invest in solutions and processes that will better people’s everyday lives not just in Africa but globally. The vision has not changed, and it is that I become a globally successful software entrepreneur who will set up life changing systems that will remain relevant long after my generation is gone.

What are your thoughts on the emerging entrepreneurial community in West Africa?

I think it has been long coming especially entrepreneurship in the software space. There are and has been multi-billion dollar entrepreneurs such as Aliko Dangote who revolve majorly around the fast moving consumer goods industry but only recently has entrepreneurship in the software space in west Africa gained some recognition. Basic amenities like regular electricity and fast internet connection continue to hold back the growth of software entrepreneurship in west Africa but organisations such as Meltwater Entrepreneurial school of Technology (MEST) in Accra who also runs an incubator program, HubAccra in Ghana, Co-creation Hub in Lagos and plenty other Incubator and accelerator programs continue to make themselves known and raise awareness that something important is happening in the software and entrepreneurship space in West Africa. I believe that it is only a matter of time before the first wave of globally successful West-African software entrepreneurs begin to emerge.

How do you think the local government can better serve the entrepreneurial community?

For one recognition of the industry. There needs to be more awareness of digital and software technology and innovation. I think the government can tackle the problem from the root which is taking computer science as a serious course from the primary level in schools. There should be competitions like H4BC from the secondary school level. The brightest computer students should be well rewarded and recognized. There should be more encouragement to brew local venture capitalists because that will mean local tech companies can survive. Their efforts should also be reflected in the yearly budget mapped out to fund programs aimed in creating more astute local developers and funding the brightest start-ups.

Do you have any future predictions for the start-up community in the West Africa region?

I think there is massive potential and talent here. I think more and more start-ups will emerge. I think there will be a lot of failures but then that will only mean a greater number will succeed. As they say… Fail fast and succeed faster. I think maybe capital for start-ups will be slow as not a lot of people know about the space and will be willing to invest, but like Malcom Gladwell alludes to in his book ‘Outliers’, it is when people are backed in a corner that outliers can show themselves. I think by 2020 we will start to see the first Outlier start-ups in West Africa making impact in the global community.

We have not forgotten the other winners in Design & Technology: SmatGreen, and Education: Prepa. They will soon be featured in upcoming posts. Stay tuned.

Let’s raise our hands and honor team PharmSee’s efforts, along with all of the other winning and participating teams. We wish them all the best of luck in their future entrepreneurial endeavors and look forward to their inspired innovations!

[Next Up: The Big Prize]

– Ehb

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