Helium Health’s Tito Ovia on Raising Funds and Building Top Teams for Your Healthtech
The African healthtech sector over the past couple of years has seen an influx of investment as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. As traditional health care providers sought to adopt new technologies as a response to the challenges posed by the pandemic, Healthtech providers like Helium Health were well poised and ready to provide the tech transformation needed. For Tito Ovia, cofounder of Helium Health, being intentional about every action that is taken is what has helped in the development and growth of the healthtech startup.
Helium Health is a leading healthtech company providing a suite of cutting edge technology solutions transforming health delivery across hospitals in West Africa. Since its inception in 2016, the startup has raised funding, gained market dominance in West Africa and built a top team which is driving its mission. Hear from Tito Ovia as she sheds light on her experience as a female tech founder, raising funds and building a world class team for a healthtech company.
● Tell us about your background and how you ended up building a healthtech startup in Africa?
I have always been a healthcare enthusiast. When I was younger, I wanted to be a doctor because I wanted to help people. When I didn’t get into medical school, I went on to get a degree in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Manchester. I spent some time working for healthcare organizations like Orbis, in Mongolia, and I volunteered in hospitals in Honduras. Eventually, I returned to Nigeria and worked for the Lagos State AIDS Control Agency. There we worked on preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS within Lagos and my job was to reconcile and validate data. That was the clearest picture I had in my mind for why Helium Health needed to exist. Validating the data was an incredibly manual process that had all sorts of errors. We would be validating data that was 6 months old and passing it on to stakeholders who were making decisions that would come to fruition in the future. At the end of the day, incredibly important public health decisions were being taken on inaccurate outdated data.
● What differentiates Helium Health from other healthtech businesses?
Our approach to thinking and executing within the healthcare space is very different from our competitors. We’re not just thinking of one product or two products but a data-informed and data-driven ecosystem. We have built an interconnected suite of technology solutions for all healthcare stakeholders — providers, payers, patients, and public health partners — which boost efficiency, plug financial leakages, simplify healthcare financing, surface actionable data, and improve patient outcomes.
● Helium Health raised $10mil in a Series A funding round in 2020. What are some insights you can share with other female founders when it comes to raising funds for their startups?
As a female founder, you’re almost constantly in a state of fight. You are either fighting external forces trying to undermine you or your own imposter syndrome. Sometimes you can get caught in a rut where you are always second-guessing yourself and it is such an uncomfortable place to be in. It is also a lot harder than it should be for female founders and it is even worse for black female founders. According to Inc, only 1.2% of venture funding went to black founders and only 40% of that went to black female founders in 2021. I say that so you can be prepared to hear a lot of NOs. The second thing is you need a support system, both personally and at work. Fundraising can be time-consuming and if you’re not careful it will take your entire organization’s focus away from the actual work and into fundraising. You need a system in place to make sure that doesn’t happen. Finally, a good place to start is with funds that have a track record of backing female founders in your industry.
the key strategies that can prepare startups for investment?
In preparing yourself, it is also important you truly know your business. It sounds obvious but as entrepreneurs, we can get high on the euphoria of our vision that we no longer have the keenest grasp of the business. You should understand your customer, what their pain points are and why your business makes sense for them. You must also know your industry and your competitive advantage within the industry. After doing these, you have to put yourself in the seat of an investor. Why is your business a place they want to be invested in? Offer them the most pertinent information in the most presentable way.
● Who are the most essential people to have on your team in the early stages of building a startup?
It depends on what type of company you are building. I would say you need people that believe in the possibilities of what you’re trying to do and are willing to commit themselves. You need people that buy into your dream and can sell that dream to others. For us, we needed people who bought into our vision across product, sales, customer relationship management.
● How do you spot great talent for your team?
You have to be able to definitely answer three questions.
First, are they great at what they do?
Second, will she/he be a good fit for where your company is at right now or will be in the near future?
The third thing they need is grit. Working in a startup environment is a crazy and intense experience. Not everyone is going to be able to do it so you need someone that feels at home under pressure and high expectations. If the answer to those three questions is not a resounding yes, then it may not work out.
● What are the most underrated values to have when building a startup?
Bringing in people that you can trust to execute the vision with the same enthusiasm you have.
● Share some tips on how to maintain momentum as a startup in Nigeria? -
-Experiment, analyze the results and move quickly. Startups are small for a reason and that is to move forward fast.
- Learn how to pivot. If it’s not working out, move on to something else that you have equal or near-equal competence in.
- Hire great people. It’s obvious, but nothing kills momentum faster than incompetence and infighting.
● What excites you about the future of health tech in Africa?
I think what we’ve seen happen globally in the last decade in fintech is only just beginning to happen in health technology. In the global north, everyone from Apple to Amazon has identified health-tech as the next frontiers of their business and the opportunity is even more in Africa. There is a limitless amount of healthcare data that is there waiting for us to unlock on the continent. We will be able to dramatically improve the quality of healthcare in Africa if we can leverage our decisions and execute data-driven approaches to healthcare delivery. We can leapfrog health inequality. We can truly make healthcare more available and more affordable to those who need it the most when they need it the most by harnessing the power of data.
● The lines between personal life and work are often blurred when building a startup. How do you take time off work to rejuvenate?
It’s very hard to do and you will blur those lines. Perhaps, creating a work environment that is not hostile to your sensibilities will be helpful but sometimes you just have to remind yourself that if you drop dead, someone else will easily pick up where you left off.