Female entrepreneurs still facing funding barriers —Adewara, Forbes award winner

Dr Funmi Adewara is a Nigeria-United Kingdom medical doctor and the Founder/CEO of Mobihelath International. She was recently awarded Forbes Woman Africa Technology and Innovation Award 2023 for her work in telemedicine. In this interview by Kingsley Alumona, she speaks about her journey in digital health, and venture capital for women, among others.

Telemedicine seems to have gained some momentum during COVID-19, can you share your experience?

The COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst for the adoption of telemedicine and digital health. We saw beforehand that technology will have a fundamental role to play in the future of health. It has the potential of transforming unsustainable healthcare models into sustainable ones. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, having our fingers on the pulse was a blessing because we were able to immediately deploy our solutions to support the national and global pandemic response by providing virtual consultations, working with local partners on the distribution of medicines, providing diagnostics and, where necessary, making referrals to hospitals for continuity of care.


How were you able to establish and fund Mobihealth International?

Illnesses make us very vulnerable and having access to quality medical care in a timely manner should not be a privilege, it is a fundamental human right. Mobihealth was founded with a focus and bias for Africa because that is where the need is greatest and technology can help us leapfrog from our current challenges, especially with the massive shortage of doctors. I bootstrapped the company from my income as a doctor and some funding from friends and families. We later raised capital from angel investors and grants.


Does having a UK presence help your brand?

In fact, Mobihealth Nigeria was the first to be incorporated in November 2017; whereas, Mobihealth United Kingdom, the parent company, was incorporated a year after. The choice was strategic and had to do with investors’ perceptions and risks. Having a UK presence gave us more validation and provided some comfort to investors. Many who were reluctant to invest initially did come in once we had set up our UK branch. Our global network of quality medical experts and adoption of best global practices definitely makes us stand out from competitors.


How has the venture capital flow into Nigeria and West Africa impacted your business?

Indeed, the flow of capital into Nigeria and West Africa has been quite a remarkable achievement for the African tech ecosystem, and this is despite the global economic downturn which saw a double-digit drop in venture capital funding in other parts of the world. However, women-led businesses continue to be marginalised. Women and the healthcare sector remain grossly underfunded. According to the World Bank, for every five per cent invested in women, $25 goes to men. Only 5% of total funding went to women-led businesses and less than 10 per cent went to healthcare in 2022. A lot more needs to be done to bridge the gender funding gap. Apart from being the moral and ethical thing to do, investment in women-led businesses delivers more return on investment.


What are the major challenges and barriers women face while sourcing funds for their businesses?

When it comes to funding, women face more rigorous scrutiny and biases than men. Women constantly have to prove themselves even when they deliver more metrics than their male counterparts. It often feels like women are on trial. As a woman, you have to prove what you have achieved. Investors focus more on the risks whereas, for male founders, it is about what they can achieve, the opportunities. Some of the barriers women face in their access to the market include but are not limited to sociocultural challenges, sexism, sexual harassment, and the fact that the society seems okay with women doing small-scale businesses but does not expect them to be talking about scaling multi-million dollar businesses.


You were recently awarded Forbes Woman Africa Technology and Innovation Award 2023, what does it mean to your career?

The award is a recognition of the work I have done through Mobihealth, an integrated telehealth company leveraging technology to democratise access to healthcare. Our platform enables patients to access medical care (consultations, prescription medicines, diagnostics, health education and training) through mobile phones, computers, and walk-in telehealth clinics integrated with solar, internet and AI-powered devices for vital signs and point-of-care ultrasound. The award by a prestigious organisation such as Forbes is definitely heartwarming and will provide more visibility for the work we are doing at Mobihealth. I was thrilled and honoured to be in the company of phenomenal women during International Women’s Day. This is a win for not just me but for my supportive team at Mobihealth, for healthcare and for women.


What is your advice for women and youths who are planning to set up their own businesses?

Believe in yourself. You can do it. Do not let fear keep you back. No one starts a venture knowing it all or having everything in place. As former President Ellen Johnson Sir Leaf said: “If your dreams don’t scare, you, they aren’t big enough. The size of your dream must exceed your current capacity to achieve them.”



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