Serial Kenyan Technology entrepreneur Mike Macharia Over the past two decades, companies such as Safaricom, East Africa’s largest telecom provider, have helped create infrastructure to support their growth. his firm, Seven Seas Technologieshas also previously worked with governments – after being involved in the initial implementation of the decentralized service delivery hubs – Huduma centerswhich gives citizens access to almost all government services through a single portal.
A few years ago, Macharia was also instructed by the Kenyan government to leave now national hospital information system, which he believes would have changed the health care system in the country. However, the end of that project, in 2019, was not at the expense of its innovativeness; instead it inspired him to launch Ponea health as a marketplace for healthcare services.
“The end of that project was a moment of self-reflection, and I realized that I had spent my entire life building hardware and software for enterprises. But I never thought of building technology for us (the masses). I decided to build from the bottom up, and that’s how Ponee was born,” Macharia, the startup’s Chief Visionary Officer (CVO), told gotechbusiness.com.
A personal emergency confirmed the topicality of the idea.
“I drove from my house and got a nosebleed, and that was the second time it happened. I contacted my doctor and he advised me to do some tests. But I think he guessed 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 assessment, I contacted a pharmacy that used a rider to deliver the drugs,” he said.
“It was then that I realized that everything exists. The doctors, labs, pharmacy, payment and delivery services exist, but why aren’t they connected? I found out that no one had tried to combine this entire ecosystem into one; it was something we had to do. Why not?”
And so he started building Ponee as a “true patient-centric platform.”
Ponea Health is a multi-tiered marketplace that brings together patients, healthcare, and other service providers, including those in the payments space.
It makes it easy for users to identify physicians, facilities and/or care packages based on a variety of factors, including need, location and reimbursements – as costs are also included in the list.
Once a user has had contact with a doctor, and depending on the severity of their cases, consultation takes place either virtually or physically. And where 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’ve realized that we need to start mastering the last-mile experience for patients,” said Macharia, who co-founded Ponea with Ponea. Akshay Shah.
He added that the entire process is customer-driven and supported by a call center (medical operations center) that ensures a smooth process for the patient from the time they check in to when the medication is delivered.
To be listed on the Ponea platform, providers are first vetted and rated using their proprietary rating system, which uses data from the government database and physician certifications. In addition, patients can also rate providers based on established metrics, ranking physicians based on customer experience and satisfaction.
Founded in June 2019, Ponea has signed up more than 400 health and wellness professionals as of January last year, in addition to more than 15,000 clients, with a 54% conversion as people increasingly look to telehealth, following the covid-driven growth of the industry. The adoption comes as telehealth is said to bridge access to healthcare in Africa, the continent with the highest burden of disease 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 have a presence in four other markets, including South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and Morocco.
“We built a scalable product that integrates easily with others because from the outset we wanted to build a platform that should work in any part of the world. This means we don’t build what is available. We are looking at strategic engagement by enabling API integration on a global level,” said Macharia.
“And we’ve found great companies both globally and locally that we work with in amazing ways, and this includes a global mental health symptom checker that we’re currently evaluating that will soon be integrated into our platform,” he said, adding that the platform may also collect data from wearable devices.
Ponea’s offering includes a chronic disease management element for patients and their caregivers, such as nurses, to help synchronize information and data for better disease surveillance.
The startup is also targeting SMEs or companies that cannot afford comprehensive insurance, or that only seek outpatient services. Employees can access services from a list of pre-selected providers, and unlike insurance, the Ponea wallet balance does not expire.
To date, Ponee has raised $4.3 million in funding from Afya Partners, Shield Capital, Seven Seas Technologies and a number of investors including Bhavesh Shah, Herman Langen, Franciscus Olsthoorn and Kalpesh Mehta.