Filling the Gap: The Conveyor Belt of Innovation in African Healthcare

In the dynamic landscape of African entrepreneurship, the journey from ideation to investment can often be long and full of challenges. Africa’s youthful population, with a median age of only 18, has great potential when it comes to creating innovative solutions to solve our greatest challenges, so we want to help them have the best chance at success. Villgro Africa and Jaza Rift Ventures are implementing an ecosystem-wide structure, likened to a conveyor belt, to streamline this process and bridge the gap between innovative ideas and tangible investment opportunities for those young people interested in designing new healthcare innovations and inventions.

From left to right, representation from Jaza Rift Ventures (Monica Ng’aru), the Lemelson Foundation (Rob Schneider and Maggie Flanagan), and Villgro Africa (Dr. Robert Karanja).

Villgro’s Early-Stage Support

The conveyor belt concept represents a progression of support and funding for startups, guiding them through various stages of development until they reach maturity. The journey starts with Villgro Africa, an organisation committed to nurturing early-stage innovations in healthcare across the continent.

Villgro Africa initially embarked on its mission with the aid of grants, laying the groundwork for a robust pipeline of promising ventures. However, the challenges persisted beyond Villgro’s level of funding, as startups struggled to secure subsequent rounds of funding, hindering their growth and impact. Recognizing the need for a sustainable funding mechanism, Villgro offered a blended finance model, combining grants with equity funding to expedite the growth of budding enterprises. However, a critical gap remained between Villgro’s initial investment and the subsequent rounds of funding, prompting the birth of Jaza Rift Ventures.

Bridging the Gap: Jaza Rift Ventures

‘Jaza’ in Swahili means to ‘bridge’ or ‘fill.’ Jaza Rift Ventures is, therefore, filling the investment gap for companies in the early stages of entrepreneurship. They serve as the next phase in the conveyor belt journey, positioned strategically between Villgro’s early-stage support and subsequent rounds of investment. 

To fill the financial gap, Jaza Rift Ventures targets startups in the digital health, medtech, and biotech sectors, which are often overlooked by traditional investors. Those investing in the African health sector often shy away from deep tech, which often has longer, more complicated routes to commercialization. Thanks to their vantage point at the crossroads of incubators and later stage investors, Jaza Rift Ventures is uniquely positioned to demonstrate that money can be made in deep tech in Africa and these solutions can then create strong financial returns and better healthcare outcomes for the continent and the world.

The Villgro-Jaza Rift Partnership

Central to the success of this model is the symbiotic relationship between Villgro Africa and Jaza Rift Ventures. Leveraging Villgro’s extensive expertise and network, Jaza Rift Ventures gains access to and insight of the promising startups in Villgro’s portfolio. Through joint pitch sessions, shared due diligence, and collaborative post-investment support, the conveyor belt ensures a smooth transition for startups as they progress along the funding continuum.

A visit with TPN to their partner at Meru University. From left to right, Dr. Joshua Kibera (TPN Founder), Prof. Charity Gichuki (Meru University), and Edwin Osora (Villgro Africa).

While Villgro Africa is able to help their companies transition to larger amounts of funding with a trusted partner in Jaza Rift, Jaza Rift in turn has access to a promising pipeline with lower risk because of the inside information that Villgro provides. Jaza Rift also has broader access to Francophone and Lusophone Founders and can suggest to those startups to join Villgro Africa to benefit from its network effects.

Moreover, the conveyor belt model extends beyond only financial assistance, with both organisations offering invaluable guidance and mentorship to the entrepreneurs in their portfolio. By addressing key milestones and investment readiness criteria, Villgro Africa and Jaza Rift Ventures empower startups to attract further investment and achieve sustainable growth. Jaza Rift Ventures notably uses its 4Cs: Capital, Community, Coaching & Mentoring, and Crazy 10x growth methodology. The aim is to open up the pathways to market validation, scaling and strategic partnerships for the startups to scale faster. 

TPN: A Conveyor Belt Story

Villgro Africa has helped shape the growth trajectory of The Pathology Network (TPN), providing support across various fronts. Initially, the financial backing from Villgro significantly prolonged the company’s financial runway, affording them the time and resources to develop their innovation. Additionally, at a pivotal early stage, the Villgro team asked critical questions that helped TPN think through their business model, sales strategy, and other aspects of their business, along with providing support in areas such as financial modelling and investment readiness. More recently, the TPN team enjoyed the Artificial Intelligence for Health (AI4H) program, where they received support on how to incorporate AI elements into their business. Villgro’s multifaceted support has not only accelerated TPN’s progress but has also equipped them with the resources and knowledge necessary to leverage AI for continued growth and impact. 

As part of the partnership, Jaza Rift Ventures had the opportunity to review the companies incubated and found that the unique value proposition offered by TPN was in full alignment with the thesis: better healthcare through accessible, quality and affordable care, with a clear pathway to scalability of return and impact. TPN passed the Jaza Rift Ventures investment analysis process based on the 3Ts: Team, Taste and Terms. Team: focuses on the skills and ability of the team to execute on the product or services; Taste: looks at how the product or service development fits the market (Product-Market Fit) and Terms: combines the financial terms, timing and risk to provide a final investment decision. Today, Jaza Rift Ventures has built an outstanding portfolio of 9 investments.

Looking Ahead: The Promise of the Conveyor Belt Model

The conveyor belt embodies a holistic approach to fostering innovation and invention in African healthcare, emphasising collaboration, knowledge sharing, and long-term sustainability. As startups journey from ideation to investment, they are not merely recipients of funding but active participants in a transformative process, driving positive change and shaping the future of healthcare in Africa.

Looking ahead, the conveyor belt model holds immense potential to catalyse innovation and drive economic development across the continent. By building bridges between entrepreneurs and investors, we want to pave the way for a vibrant ecosystem of healthcare innovation and invention, where ideas flourish, and impact thrives.

The reality is that healthcare is still severely underfunded and more partners are needed. While we at Villgro Africa and Jaza Rift Ventures are initiating this ecosystem structure for African health startups, we do not cover every stage in the ideation-to-commercialization process and invite others to join this conveyor belt.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This website stores cookies on your computer. Cookie Policy