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Health Tech Is Not a Fad; It’s Desperately Needed – an Interview with LifeBank

LifeBank is helping get blood and oxygen to Africa’s hospitals within 45 minutes. It could do so much more with the right investment. 

“When people are sick, it’s a need; it’s not a want,” says Temie Giwa-Tubosun, founder and CEO of LifeBank. “No one is sitting in their home and saying, ‘I can use some blood today’ or ‘I can use some oxygen today.’ When they need it, they need it. And when people need something, they’re willing to spend their resources on that thing.”

Born in Nigeria and educated in the United States, Giwa-Tubosun gave birth to her first child in a Minnesota hospital. It was a complicated delivery, and the hospital might not have been able to save her life without the critical medical commodities they had in stock, including blood. After this experience, Giwa-Tubosun moved back to Nigeria and launched LifeBank—a company that would help mothers in similar situations across Africa.

Today, LifeBank supplies more than 1,000 hospitals in Kenya, Nigeria, and Ethiopia with blood, oxygen, vaccines, and more. It can deliver supplies within 45 minutes through its network of trucks, boats, drones, and, most famously, motorbike drivers with cold-storage boxes strapped to their backs. Leveraging advances in data analytics and blockchain, it offers hospitals a reliable, traceable source of life-saving commodities, all through an easy-to-use, rapid platform.

LifeBank’s motorbike drivers are easily recognizable, rushing cold chain boxes with critical supplies through the streets of cities in Nigeria, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Photo: LifeBank.

Now, in partnership with Prosper Africa, LifeBank is actively seeking investors to enable them to reach more people in need and save more lives. “We’re raising a round that would allow us to expand our business even more,” says Giwa-Tubosun. “By being listed at the Prosper Africa Deal Room, we think that we’ll have the capacity to meet the right investor – an investor that allows us to grow and scale our business to the rest of the emerging markets.”

We spoke with Giwa-Tubosun about opportunities for impact and returns in Nigeria’s healthcare sector.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

How do hospitals in Nigeria get the commodities they need today, and how are you trying to change that?

Temie Giwa-Tubosun: Hospitals across Africa have a significant problem with getting the right commodities at the right price and the right quality. Often, it takes a doctor or a nurse or midwife going through a paper Rolodex, calling all the suppliers they know and saying, “Do you have this? Do you have that? How many packs do you have? How quickly can I get it?” And they’re trying to negotiate prices at a time when the supplier knows they’re in an emergency.

You can see how that situation would create a really poor supply chain. We cut out all of those extra time-consuming steps. You have one platform that’s tech driven, that has data analytics, that is smart and agile, and that can connect you with the supply you need at the touch of a button.

Where is the company in its growth trajectory?

Giwa-Tubosun: In the last six years, even as we were building our model, we’ve grown. Our tech stack allows us to scale easily and open in new markets rapidly. For us, that’s the secret sauce. We’ve expanded to three countries – Nigeria, Kenya, and Ethiopia. We serve about 1,000 hospitals across these three markets and we’re just this engine of growth, growth, growth.

People will always need health services, and so the market will always be large. Demand is built into our business model. And sustainability is built in. We charge our hospitals a fee, and we’re able to do the big business that can be sustainable. We also have a cross-subsidization model that allows us to scale to all kinds of different contexts. We can comfortably operate in the largest cities across emerging markets and we can operate in small villages.

COVID really changed our business, but it wasn’t a pivot. It was an expansion. Our supply chain never broke. We didn’t stop working. We added medical oxygen, medical equipment, lab samples, and vaccines. We opened testing centers. The pandemic showed all of us the significant issues we have in the supply chain for health. And it showed us that LifeBank is well-placed to help build the supply chain that can respond.

What are you looking for in an investor?

Giwa-Tubosun: For us, being an investor and an investee is a marriage. We’re looking for the right long-term partner – someone who knows healthcare well and who has invested in businesses that are scaling up in emerging markets.

It’s really important to choose the right partners. For example, LifeBank won the Johnson & Johnson Africa Innovation Challenge in 2019. We were able to jointly build a clinical test to measure one of our new products that uses Blockchain to track and trace blood supplies. By having this deep partnership, we were able to learn from the significant experience that Johnson & Johnson has.

LifeBank’s multimodal distribution network delivers blood and other supplies in WHO blood safety compliant cold chain boxes. Photo: LifeBank

Why should investors consider the healthcare sector in Nigeria?

Giwa-Tubosun: When there is an inefficient system, being able to innovate within that system is often a big opportunity. Innovators are going to see gaps and rise to that occasion. We see that in the explosion of telemedicine and the explosion of digitizing supply chains.

Running a business and investing are inherently risky. But in Africa, the upside is humongous – the upside in terms of human life, the upside on your own returns. Of course, there is good risk and bad risk, and you can defuse some risk by hiring the right people, partnering with the right companies, ensuring your values are the same. But for me, all I see are the upsides of impact and potential returns.

There are a lot of returns in building businesses in healthcare, and more importantly, the returns will be sustainable. Healthcare is not a fad. Health tech is not a fad. It’s something that is desperately needed and there are lots of interesting companies that are well placed to take this opportunity and run with it.

You can find LifeBank and other investment-ready companies in Prosper Africa’s Virtual Deal Room.

Read more interviews and stories featuring investors and business leaders in the Prosper Africa Blog