Nicole is a Nigerian-British entrepreneur with a background in medical research and a passion for using technology to improve healthcare across the continent. Having worked in start-ups most of her professional life in business and product development roles, she decided to combine her interest for technology, business and healthcare in Africa by launching Medixus.
How does Medixus bridge the gap in healthcare, in a country like Kenya, where health provision is wrought in so many challenges?
Health provision is a complicated beast. Globally, hardly any governments have gotten it totally right as there are so many moving parts. As in any country, Kenya has its own unique context-specific challenges to overcome - at Medixus, we recognise we can’t solve all of them but we can solve some of it. What we do is use technology to help healthcare workers communicate securely and confidentially about challenging patient cases.
Our belief is that if we can share knowledge among medics, we can reduce professional isolation, improve clinical decision making and as a result improve the quality of patient care delivered. We aim to help share the knowledge of our wonderful workforce and create a pan-African community among medics.
What key policy changes, in Africa, would you suggest, to improve healthcare provision as well as reduce brain drain by medical personnel?
I’ve actually just written about this in a blog post for Universal Health Coverage Day, https://www.medixus.co/blog/doctor-burn-out-the-barrier-to-uhc-that-no-one-is-talking-about, at the moment, I’m really keen to see more done around burnout of healthcare workers (preventing it, recognising it and supporting those who are suffering with it).
We can’t achieve UHC without our medical personnel, but they are burning out at an alarming rate or leaving the continent before they get burnt out. I think finding ways to make the day-to-day less draining for medics would go a long way to both improving healthcare provision and retention of healthcare workers.
What would you name as the highlight of Medixus since its inception in 2016?
There have been a few. I think all ‘firsts’ when growing your business are always pretty special, so the first moment the app was available on Play Store was a definite highlight - seeing the thing that was my far-fetched idea, incepted after personal loss in the Nigerian healthcare system, which had been nothing more than an idea on a whiteboard, finally as an actual app was pretty special.
Another was the first time a doctor posted a case - I called my co-founder in excitement and texted my parents to say “it’s real!” (I still get excited now!)
What is your dream for your company?
I have many dreams for it. One of the big ones though is creating a proudly Pan-African medical community. For Medixus to be a place where we can challenge the narrative that African doctors are not good enough or needing help from outside, and instead utilise the vast knowledge that exists amongst our medics.
Creating space for our healthcare workers to learn from each other, specifically from others who understand the realities, treatment pathways and disease burdens locally. We want to scale the product globally one day, yet it will be known as an African product first and foremost.
Do you struggle to connect your interest in science and your passion for business?
Not at all, as I think the two are so closely linked. The ways of thinking, problem-solving, data driven and creative approaches used in science and research map really nicely into business. I do sometimes miss the ‘pure’ science, as I’m quite a biomedicine nerd, but Medixus helps me stay close to the research and latest goings on in medicine.
When did the tech bug bite?
I think growing up in the 90s, I very much grew up as technology did - things like the internet really came of age the same time as me. So it’s been a background influence my whole life. Also, with two parents who work in tech and who made sure their daughters were literate in it, I’d say the tech bug bit when I was a toddler. It’s now become an everyday part of life, and what I love most about all forms of technology is its ability to connect people, change lives through seemingly small but simple methods and the (relative) democratising of things like access to knowledge that it has created.
Who has had the greatest influence on your career so far?
My parents. Being raised by two intelligent, proudly Nigerian parents who led by example and taught me (perhaps in a typically Nigerian way) that no goal, dream or ambition of mine was too big. They are my counsel, my business partners, career mentors, my cheerleaders and my reality check when I need one.
What was your favourite part of university, undergraduate or graduate?
My Masters year was definitely my favourite time at university! I absolutely loved the autonomy and ownership over my own research project and the extra modules I took - which meant you could really curate your year around your academic passions. My project was cardiovascular focused, and I spent most days in the lab (including Christmas Eve!) taking care of my stem cells. I was looking into cardiac differentiation of pluripotent stem cells (in English: making human heart cells in a petri dish, from human stem cells) - it was a great experience and valuable stuff to be working on.
What has been the greatest lesson in your career?
Learning that failure and rejection are part of your growth. With every no, or every mistake you have a real opportunity to learn something and be better for next time. A huge part of this is being brave enough to take risks, brave enough to allow failure to be an option by stepping outside of your comfort zone.
One of my favourite feelings professionally is when I take on a role or project and feel like I’m completely out of my comfort zone - it means I’m about to learn a lot about business and about myself - how much more capable (or perhaps less) I am than I thought.
What would you say to young people working to use tech to solve problems in the community?
Don’t be afraid to try. Try and think around problems - we started Medixus with no money, so had to be creative about how to build the product and how to market it. It meant being patient because building tech solutions is either expensive or slow (sometimes both) so we went for a slightly ‘slower’ build as we didn’t have the luxury to pay people to build it for us. Don’t let people tell you that you can’t, sometimes you see the solution more clearly than others and that is okay.