Director at Visions2Ventures, partner in Enterprise Elevator and Board Member of Silicon Cape, Vasili Sofiadellis, discusses his aspiration to connect health tech startups to relevant stakeholders.

Tell us about yourself and Enterprise Elevator.

I was a professional soccer player for about 13 years, and during that time I qualified as a chartered accountant and joined PwC. A year ago I left PwC and launched a company called Visions2Ventures which aims to bridge the gap between startups and corporates.

Visions2Ventures recently partnered with Impact Amplifier and Entrepreneur Traction to launch Enterprise Elevator, an accelerator growth programme focused on health tech. Initially, Enterprise Elevator was going to focus on education, health and green tech; but as we started having discussions with health professionals and other stakeholders we realised that there’s a massive disconnect between startups and corporate specifically in the health space and that became our focus.

Essentially, we want to be the platform that connects all the stakeholders together to create a win-win situation for everybody, including the patient. Enterprise Elevator not only connects new health tech to corporate investment but also assists post-revenue health tech startups to secure funding and market access.

How does Enterprise Elevator work? 

Enterprise Elevator is a five month programme which takes on 10 tech-enabled entrepreneurs focused on bringing more affordable healthcare to marginalised communities. Our two key focus areas is on the startups’ investment readiness and their business model, as well as identifying potential clients and partners for them to scale their solutions.

Part of the process is finding the links between these startups and how we can structure them to potentially integrate with each other, if they are open to it. We believe that in healthcare in particular, it all comes down to linking different stakeholders together and helping them unlock opportunities to realise their full potential. Our model reflects that premise and means that if the entrepreneur is successful, then we will also be successful.

What do you think makes a good partnership with government?

It’s about understanding what their needs are and offering them a clear solution. We have a very good relationship with the public sector and are planning to partner with the Graduate School of Business (GSB) to work with Groote Schuur Hospital and Tygerberg Hospital; so I think that there isn’t any one answer to the question but it starts with looking at organisations that have close links to government organisations that can offer a platform for collaboration with government.

Another strategy for us it to take the top three innovators to come out of the accelerator programme to international trade shows to showcase their solutions, and then look at how we can link their solutions to government. It will be on a case-by-case basis but for example, we may advise startups to look at a freemium model that allows integration into the government supply chains.

Let’s talk about global trends in health tech investment. What are the nuances in African healthcare that tech is trying to solve?

The biggest challenge around the world, and particularly in poor and developing economies such as Africa, is access to affordable healthcare. That is what we are looking to find a solution for, especially because it’s something government isn’t going to solve alone. The key is to find ways of partnering with government to give them the solution, while at the same time gaining access to the market to see how we can make money for the entrepreneurs.

Providing access to affordable care means keeping patients as the focus. The health tech solutions we want to be involved with will, for example, allow patients to avoid waiting in long queues at hospitals because they will have access to services through mobile technology. Streamlining services to realise affordability or reduced cost means eliminating the silos and that is part of our mandate as an organisation.

Global patient trends are influencing healthcare delivery, but isn’t delivering care in a rural setting more about supporting the clinician?

Vula Mobile is a great example of how health tech and mobile tech can be used to provide solutions to people in rural areas, not just patients but health workers too. They secured grant funding initially to develop their solution, but they are now in a position to offer their services for free to certain sectors, while also monetising it for others. What their story illustrates is a company that has developed a solution to address a real need, who then needed guidance to take the solution into the corporate space before becoming a leading solution across Africa.

The founder of Vula Mobile, Dr William Mapham, is passionate about changing the way healthcare workers in primary care access information and carry out their work for the best possible outcomes for the patient. He exemplifies two key ingredients in this space: a driven entrepreneur determined to take their solution to market and to make a difference and to make a profit.

Tell us about the biggest pitfalls you’ve seen in working with health tech entrepreneurs?

In short, have a business case. It’s imperative to ensure that there is a need for your solution. Before you invest time and money building a product, go and talk to who you think needs it to get some constructive and critical feedback. Come away from those engagements knowing whether they would buy it or fund it. Once you know who your potential customers are, we can help you scale as soon as possible. At the end of the day, local startups are actually competing with Silicon Valley, so the quicker you can partner with parties that share the same purpose and vision but who bring a range of expertise, the quicker you will succeed.

Do you have any advice for people in healthcare who want to make a social impact but find the money conversation quite hard?

Social entrepreneurs aren’t only in it for the money; they are passionate people that really want to change healthcare. The Dutch government, the British Council, the World Bank and other similar organisations understand the challenges that social entrepreneurs face and as a result, grant funding is available as a starting point.

A new model that is becoming more and more popular is match-funding, whereby grant funders partner with angel investors to co-invest and help these entrepreneurs. So the good news is that there is funding available and people are taking social entrepreneurship seriously, which means there’s more opportunity to be sustainable and make a profit.

Our platform leverages this kind of funding to accelerate solutions to market while at the same time, forging the right partnerships and engaging different stakeholders to together, revolutionise healthcare.

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