Kenyan technology in series Entrepreneur Mike Macharia has spent the past two decades helping companies like Safaricom, East Africa’s largest telecommunications company, build infrastructure that supports their growth. His company, Seven Seas Technologies, has also worked with governments – having been involved in the initial implementation of decentralized service delivery centers – Huduma Centres, which allow citizens to access almost any government service through a single portal.
A few years ago, Macharia was also hired by the Kenyan government to build the now abandoned National Hospital Information System, which he says would have transformed healthcare delivery in the country. The end of this project, in 2019, however, did not kill its spirit of innovation; instead, it inspired him to launch Ponea Health as a health services marketplace.
“The end of this project offered a moment of introspection and I realized that I had spent my whole life building hardware and software for businesses. But I had never thought of building technology for us (the masses). I decided to build from the bottom up, and that’s how Ponea was born,” Macharia, the startup’s Chief Visionary Officer (CVO), told TechCrunch.
A personal emergency confirmed the opportunity of the idea.
“I was driving from home and had a nosebleed, and this was the second time it had happened. I contacted my doctor and he recommended that I get tested. But I think he suspected that I wouldn’t take them; it was a busy day anyway. So he sent a lab technician to my office to take samples. After the results and the doctor’s examination, I contacted a pharmacy that used a courier to deliver the drugs,” he said.
“At that moment, I realized that everything exists. Doctors, laboratories, pharmacy, payment and delivery providers exist, but why are they not interconnected? I discovered that no one had attempted to combine this whole ecosystem into one; it was something we had to do. Why not?”
And that’s how he set out to build Ponea as a “truly patient-centric platform.”
Ponea Health is a tiered marketplace that brings together patients, healthcare providers, and other service providers, including those in the payment space.
It allows users to easily identify doctors, facilities, and/or healthcare packages based on various factors including need, location, and cost, as cost is also included during signup .
Once a user is put in contact with a doctor, and depending on the seriousness of his case, the consultation is done virtually or physically. And, when a doctor recommends testing, Ponea connects the patient with a lab provider for sample collection.
“We also have our own phlebotomists, who sometimes collect blood samples, because we realized we need to start controlling the last-mile experience for patients,” said Macharia, who co-founded Ponea with Akshay Shah.
He added that the whole process is customer-focused and supported by a call center (Medical Operations Center) which ensures a smooth process for the patient from the time of check-in to delivery. medication.
To be listed on Ponea’s platform, providers are first vetted and rated, using its own rating system, which uses government database data and doctor certifications. Additionally, patients can also rate providers based on defined metrics, which helps rank doctors based on customer experience and satisfaction.
Ponea was founded in June 2019 and since January last year has recruited over 400 health and wellness professionals, in addition to over 15,000 customers, with a 54% conversion as people search telehealth increasingly, following the covid-induced growth of the sector. The adoption comes as telehealth is set to bridge the healthcare access gap in Africa, the continent with the highest disease burden in the world and the lowest patient-to-doctor ratio.
As telehealth adoption continues, Ponea aims to grow its customer base by 500,000 over the next three years and establish a presence in four additional markets, including South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and the Morocco.
“We built a scalable product that easily integrates with others because from the start we set out to build a platform that should work in any part of the world. That means we don’t build what is available. We are looking at strategic engagement in enabling API integration globally,” Macharia said.
“And, we’ve found some great companies both globally and locally that we’re working with amazingly, and that includes a global mental health symptom checker that we’re currently evaluating and that will soon be integrated into our platform. form,” he said, adding that the platform is also capable of collecting data from wearable devices.
Ponea’s offering includes a chronic disease management component for patients and their caregivers, such as nurses, to synchronize information and data for better disease monitoring.
The startup also caters to SMBs or businesses that cannot afford full insurance, or those looking for outpatient services only. Employees can access services from a list of pre-screened providers, and unlike insurance, the Ponea wallet balance does not expire.
To date, Ponea has attracted $4.3 million in funding from Afya Partners, Shield Capital, Seven Seas Technologies and a number of angel investors including Bhavesh Shah, Herman Langen, Franciscus Olsthoorn and Kalpesh Mehta.