Interview: MamaOpe – Inside BBC Listed African Invention to Look out for 2017

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Photo Credit: Pitch@Palace

Last week, Turyabagye Brian’s innovation, MamaOpe – a Pneumonia diagnosis kit, won the pitch@palace competition in the UK. This was on the back of the startup being named among five African inventions to look out for in 2017 by BBC.

We thought it wise to get in touch with Brian to get a better understanding of MamaOpe, his team, future plans and his views about the Ugandan startup ecosystem. Brian is quite an interesting and informed fellow.

Here is the conversation that he had with our Team Leader, Malinz. Enjoy the reading!

Q:Tell me about MamaOPe in 2–5 words?
A Pneumonia diagnosis kit.

Q: Why is now the time for MamaOpe to exist?
We noticed a worrying trend in the mortality rates which prompted us to design a solution that can offer hope to our mother, by saving millions of African children from avoidable deaths caused by Pneumonia.

Q: At the moment, how do you measure success? What are your metrics? And how far have you gone in achieving them?
We are currently measuring our success by the sustainability and the number of strong partnerships (that will convert into bookings for the kit) i.e. eventual customers.

We have so far managed to make partnerships with international health based organisations that are committed to buying this kit and have it distributed in most remote communities where they have strong presence.

And the quality of the team working on this is very strong with proven records of achieving the set milestones for this project, which is an assurance that we will hit the market with a perfect product in the set timelines.

Q: Talking about International Organizations, does that mean those are your main target market?

Yes.The reason we are targeting them is that they’re already doing community work/projects across several African countries. Therefore engaging them will easily create impact for us across other African countries. But still, we are looking at pharmacies as private partners.

Q: So this is a re-usable Kit?

Yes, definitely. The way we design the material it can be easily wiped.

Photo Credit: Brian Turyabagye

Q: Hasn’t anyone around the world come up with a similar idea?

Not one that i know of. But of course as time goes, competition comes up. People will try to come up with something similar.

Q: Which country in Africa has the highest rates that you’d like to tap in first?

Tanzania, Nigeria and Niger. They’re one of the top 10 in the world. Actually out of the top 10 countries in the world, Africa has 7. The prevalence rate is very high in Africa and South America.

Q: In a few sentences, what do you offer to whom? And who else is trying to do it? Why do you think you’re better?
We are designing a bio-medical smart jacket that aids in fast diagnosis and monitoring of child Pneumonia patients. This can be used in remote health centres, families, clinics and hospitals at large.

Currently health workers use an ARI timer from UNICEF. This is a good tool to use to diagnose the disease but the manual operation mechanism associated with it doesn’t considerably reduce the time spent in diagnosing the disease.

For health centres with big numbers, a health worker can easily confuse the counts from this device which increases the margin for human error.Q

Q: What’s most exciting about your traction/successes to date?
The most exciting thing has been the great support we have obtained from the global communities in regard to developing this solution.

We have been able to get various partners willing to assist in one way or the other just to ensure that this solution comes to the market to save another generation of our children.

Q: Where do you think your biggest growth will be next year?
Our biggest growth will be on fine tuning our product for larger communities and ensuring that indeed serves the current pressing need of mis-diagnosis.

Q: Do you have any paying customers? If yes, tell me about your first paying customer and revenue expectations over the next year.
Our solution is not yet market-ready but is undergoing the necessary approved steps to prepare it for the market.

Q: All startups have threats, what is your biggest threat?
In healthcare, the regulatory hurdles and sales cycles can take significant time and the resistance to change is high, so the entire cycle is elongated. There’s an intense amount of patience needed to be an entrepreneur in general, and in health care even more so.

Q: How are you funding MamaOpe? How do you see it funded in a year’s time?
In the previous year, our project won in the Big Ideas competition (by UC Berkeley, California) and the prize money has been of great help to carry us through the design iterations on top of our personal contributions to see this come to reality.

We are currently seeking for a grant and/or investment support that will get us through the approval steps so that this solution gets on market.

Q: We’ve seen startups win competitions and that’s it. Is this the same case with MamaOpe?
We are driven by our deep passion to save many more lives and leave an impact to our communities with better solutions.

We cannot simply be blinded by small breakthroughs such as winning competitions, these simply help to affirm to us that what we are doing is on track and the job to us is to put in our best minds to bring the solutions as a reward for the support that we get.

Q: How many people are on your team?

We started out as 3 people but as per now we are upto six people. We have two medical researchers, another engineer who gives us over sight plus another medical person who gives guidance.

Q: Where are your offices located.

There’s an office we opened up around Makerere that we are currently occupying

Q: Have you had any support from other hospitals, medical instituitions or ministry of health?

We haven’t yet actively sought for their help so i can’t say they have or not been helpful. At our stage of operation, we haven’t yet needed. But when reach the stage of clinical trials, we shall be able to hit them up.

Is there anyone you’d like to be interviewed on Startup Digest Africa, drop us an email at info@startupdigestafrica.com.

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