Andrew Garza
Home African CEOs Interviews Visionaries Lifestores Healthcare is Using Technology to Democratise Primary Healthcare: A Conversation with Andrew Garza
Visionaries - August 8, 2022

Lifestores Healthcare is Using Technology to Democratise Primary Healthcare: A Conversation with Andrew Garza

We caught up with Andrew Garza, the co-founder of Lifestores Healthcare. The health tech platform is helping to democratise access to primary healthcare by digitising hospitals and pharmacies.

Garza shares insights on funding, scaling and operating a health tech startup in Nigeria.

BEA: What influenced your decision to launch Lifestores Healthcare in Nigeria?

Andrew Garza: To briefly elaborate, we were three co-founders that launched it together, Bryan Mezue, Pharm. Ken Ahaotu, and myself. I previously worked as a consultant in South Africa and Nigeria for several years.

After that, I worked for one of my client companies, Chi Pharmaceuticals, a Nigerian pharmaceutical manufacturer and importer. There I learned several things about the pharmaceutical space in Nigeria that ultimately inspired me to want to start Lifestores.

The first thing is that, from the patient perspective, there’s a range of challenges that people face. For example, regarding access to medications, somewhere between 20 and 50% of medicines that patients can access are fake medications, and, at best, they don’t work as effectively; it also means people sometimes die from drugs due to substandard ingredients. It’s a scourge in Nigeria that shocked me.

I also learned that even though a large portion of the population has severe budgetary constraints, medications are quite expensive in Nigeria – in many cases, up to four times international reference prices.

On the patient outcome side, I also saw that about 40% of Nigerians over 25 either have hypertension or are pre-hypertensive. So, there are all kinds of health care conditions that are affecting people in very large numbers, to a much greater degree than they should be.

At the same time, I observed a number of issues on the B2B side that influenced these patient challenges. My experience at Chi Pharma was more on the B2B side, where we served pharmaceutical wholesalers, hospitals, and pharmacies.

I observed that the space was incredibly fragmented, where there was no clear lead – a very large hospital or pharmacy chain that took a large market share. Because of that fragmentation, it was hard for any player to really standardise a high level of quality in the market.

We realised that with technological changes over the past decades, there was a big opportunity to use technology to support healthcare providers to enable their patients to be healthier.

So talking about technology, could that be what inspired the launch of your proprietary software, Pharma IQ?

Andrew Garza: It certainly was. We looked around the world and recognised tremendous advancements in technology. It was a matter of applying some of that existing technology and, to some extent, innovating based on what makes sense in our local environment to support healthcare providers, who I regard as the heroes of the healthcare space; these are the players at the front line of primary health care.

riefly elaborate on what our tech platform is, it is called PharmIQ and there are basically two aspects. On the one hand, we have what we call a digital pharmaceutical marketplace called OGApharmacy, which enables hospitals and pharmacies to procure genuine products at low prices; we do this by combining the procurement requirements of hundreds of healthcare providers and negotiating with manufacturers and importers on their behalf.

The second component an ERP that we have built specifically for the needs of pharmacists in Nigeria – informed heavily by our own team of pharmacists. It manages the core aspects of a pharmacy, including sales, inventory, and procurement, with several pharmacy-specific features like expiry notifications.

The initial response from healthcare providers has been positive, with 25% monthly growth. Building on this foundation, we’re excited to launch new products and features on our roadmap that use AI to make healthcare providers’ work easier and patients healthier.

BEA: So what was it like starting the business?

Andrew Garza: We started with the vision of democratising access to quality and affordable health care, which is still our focus. However, we started with what we thought was an effective strategy at that point, which was to build a tech-enabled pharmacy chain like Boots for Africa – this was the first couple of years of our journey as a startup.

And there were several highs and lows on that journey. Over time, we realised that if we were looking to have that impact of democratising access to healthcare, there was probably a faster way to do it.

If we took the hurdles that we observed in our own business, such as in procurement, finance, and technology, we realized that these were challenges for other healthcare providers as well. Therefore, we decided to create a platform that provides solutions for all participating pharmacies and hospitals. The aim was to eliminate fake medications from the supply chain, reduce the cost of drugs, and give pharmacists extra time back to help their patients.

BEA: What were some of the resources you leveraged when starting the business?

In the initial phase when we were launching, there were a lot of resources that we leveraged. First of all, both Bryan and I had previously launched startups, so we were able to draw on that experience for insights on how to plan a new enterprise, hire the right people, and identify which hypotheses to validate.

Bryan and I both put in money from our savings as the initial seed funding for the first pharmacy we launched. From there, we raised money primarily from friends and people with whom we’d worked.

BEA: How did you get your pre-seed funding?

Andrew Garza: We bootstrapped the first store. Then we raised funds to acquire five more stores. And then, we eventually pivoted to this new model of using technology to support healthcare providers – which we will extend overtime to directly supporting patients.

One of many interesting things for us on the fundraising side is that it’s a stage-gate model for startups – meaning that you start with a small amount of money to validate an initial hypothesis, and then you can access more and more financing as you gain evidence that the approach is having an impact.

You got some funding from the Next Innovation with Japan (NINJA) programme, how did you get in?

We have an investor called Kepple, which connects innovative startups on the Continent with corporates in Japan that want to collaborate with companies pursuing innovative technology. Kepple highlighted the opportunity to us, and we decided to apply. It was a competitive process, and we were excited to win the NINJA prize ultimately.

BEA: What would you say was the winning strategy at NINJA?

Andrew Garza: Well, there were a few areas that they evaluated. First, they wanted to see the overall market size that we are pursuing. Is it large? Is it fast growing? Kind of a proxy as well for the question of potential patient impact.

Secondly, they wanted to know, we are addressing something where there’s a severe pain point for our customers. Thirdly, they wanted to know if our software was innovative and proprietary.

Lastly, they wanted to know about the team. Is it the right team to pursue this particular opportunity? So those are some of the things that they looked into.

BEA: Lifestores healthcare was already in business before the COVID-19 outbreak. What impact did it have on your business?

Andrew Garza: I remember very clearly, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a time when the world didn’t know how dangerous it would be. How quickly would it spread?

At that moment, it felt like the world was holding its breath, and I know that the same was true in the six pharmacies we own. It was a time of high anxiety and a lot of planning to ensure everyone was safe– our team and our patients.

We perceived that healthcare providers have a big responsibility in that kind of health care emergency to give good information to the population and help people stay healthy. We channelled our services to help them achieve that.

BEA: What’s your advice for entrepreneurs?

Andrew Garza: I believe that before people start something, they ideally should have gained some experience in different functional areas, such as sales, finance, operations, and marketing; it’s much easier to lead a function if you’ve already had some exposure and know about it. Previous start-up experience is also helpful, since start-up work is often much faster-paced than corporate.

Secondly, you want to try and ensure that you have six to 12 months of money in your bank account before you quit a job to start something, in case it takes longer than you anticipated to get off the ground. It often takes a bit longer than you expect, and you don’t want to be distracted when you’re starting something by worrying about where your rent money will come from.

BEA: How do you deal with stress?

Andrew Garza: We all deal with it, and it’s undoubtedly inherent in the entrepreneurial journey. The biggest thing for me is trying to compartmentalise my time. It means that there’s one day every week, Sunday, that I completely take off work. I often spend the day with my fiancée doing something fun, like exploring a new part of the city.

Another way I manage this business stage is by having more defined roles, and responsibilities for different team members – what I mean by that is that in the early phase of a startup’s growth, you often have to do a bit of everything as the founder, but over time experienced managers can take on the leadership of various functions.I also like to exercise – it’s essential to have something you can do to relieve stress physically.

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