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How did you get into the tech industry?

I have always been and still am a healthcare enthusiast [but] I never actually envisioned myself as tech person. When I was younger, I wanted to be a doctor because I wanted to help people. I went on to get a degree in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Manchester. Having worked for healthcare organisations like Orbis, in Mongolia, and volunteered in hospitals in Honduras, I returned to Nigeria and worked for the Lagos State AIDS Control Agency. While I was there, my friend, [COO, Helium Health] Dimeji [Sofowora], introduced me to [CEO, Helium Health], Goke [Olubisi], a Product Engineer with a penchant for solving problems. We bonded over a shared passion to fix healthcare across Africa and together we started Helium Health; a healthcare tech company working to accelerate Africa’s transition to a data and technology driven healthcare system.

Give us a run-down into what went on before (Helium Health) was launched?

Before we officially launched Helium Health, we were a company of five employees. We had an understanding of what the health facilities needed, and we went about launching our Minimum Viable Product (MVP). At this point, we gained a better insight into what the hospitals truly wanted. We also realised how much of a task it was so the five of us worked as the sales team, support team and practically every aspect of the company. We were however constantly motivated and encouraged because the intended users of the product loved it. We finally launched in April 2016 and since this time, we have laid down processes to ease the operations of business.

How did you get it out there? Did hospitals come to you or did you go to them?

In the early days, the small Helium Health team would go from hospital to hospital, pitching to doctors and hospital administrators. We would literally type in Google, Hospitals near me and then we would go to each one under the guise of “starting a healthcare partnership”. However, because it was a small company of young people, there were a lot of skeptical hospital administrators. A lot of times we would be told to come back when we had five or 10 hospitals. It was a situation where they knew our EMR was good but [hospitals] were a bit hesitant to trust our youth. Today, we are the largest EMR provider in West Africa with 107 hospitals using our software to handle over 150,000 patients visits, monthly.

How is digital disruption influencing the health sector in Nigeria?

The healthcare industry is very diverse. In a country like Nigeria, where we have [about] 200 million people, there are a lot of gaps in the healthcare industry in Nigeria and a couple of them can be attributed to a lack of human, financial and infrastructural resources. The health sector needs more funds to help with payment of staff salaries, medical research, insurance plans and to increase investment in technology. With all these factors that are hindering the progress of the health tech industry, the good thing is that there is hope. There are many deep structural challenges across Nigerian healthcare that we have to look to technological innovations to solve. This is why we are thrilled to know that companies like LifeBank and Medsaf are making a difference in other parts of the health sector. We realise that we need more efficient and effective ways of doing things and the first step is in the area of data collection because you can build on anything with the right data. If you are working with the wrong data set, every other thing becomes shaky. Everyone has a key role to play in the transformation of the healthcare space and it is good to know that people are already making decisions that will affect the health sector positively.

Why is it important for women to be part of the tech industry?

The tech industry is not some scary place where only men are accepted and able to thrive. It should be open to both genders and as such, women need to feel welcomed and trusted that they can make as much impact as their male counterparts. Ideally, teams should be made up of diverse people from different backgrounds, races, genders and experiences, and that is what we’ve tried to do at Helium Health. This helps to increase the level of creativity and innovative solutions. Women are capable of bringing new perspectives on different areas in technology, and if we want to break the cycle of men being the dominant gender, women like me who are in tech need to employ and empower other women and give them the chance to take on responsibilities.

Is there a misconception about women in tech that you want to correct?

One of the misconceptions about women in tech is that we are usually not “lady-like”. We are perceived and expected to be “tomboys’ and if we are not, then we can’t be working in the tech space. Also, usually, when you think about tech people, the first thing that comes to mind is nerdish- looking guys in hoodies, hunched over their laptops. You never actually think about ladies like me, who wear colorful dresses, get our nails done and just look pretty. This is a misconception that definitely needs correcting. Tech women “glam” up too. [But] we need to understand that your ‘look’ as a lady doesn’t matter, all that counts is getting the job done.

 In what ways can women in tech encourage young girls to part of the tech industry?

There are tech initiatives, which were set up to encourage young women who have any interest in exploring the tech world. Apart from this, women who are already in tech can encourage young girls by creating a gender-friendly environment where either of the sexes can work freely and without fear or favour. A good example would be Helium Health, where we have a 50% male and 50% female gender representation. We encourage women to be in this space not because they are women but because they have something to bring to the table and we are constantly looking for fresh ideas and innovative people. Also, contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need to know how to code or program to work in the tech industry, there are other roles that you can fit into as a woman, including sales, business development, operations, support, legal and many other aspects of the tech industry.

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