Imperial has a growing alumni network in East Africa, where innovation has accelerated over the past few decades.
The four entrepreneurs share their stories of how they lead an innovative business that is committed to positive change in the region.
Improving access to health services
Margaret Mutumba (Master of Public Health, 2010) about 18 months ago launched MedAtlas, a telemedicine platform to reduce inequalities in access to specialized health services across the continent.
A native of Uganda, Margaret now divides her time between Canada and Uganda, where MedAtlas is based.
“Clinicians who have left the region and are now working abroad but want to return to Africa can go online and advise patients.” Margaret Mutumba Founder of MedAtlas
Margaret said: “I have worked in the infertility department for more than ten years, which is very stigmatized in Africa, and people who are struggling to have children are often ignored in our healthcare system.
“Having met many people who feel this, including friends and family, I realized that there is a gap that needs to be closed.
“When COVID came and we closed, people were more open to virtual interaction, and so the stars lined up for us.
Margaret explained that the goal of MedAtlas is to move to more special settings that can be maintained virtually, including mental health and cancer. MetAtlas will connect patients with professionals around the world, and most consultations take place through WhatsApp.
Margaret said: “Our innovation is to bring doctors to the internet so that patients who need them don’t have to go through so many channels to access them. When we launched our pilot on fertility in Uganda, our patients came from all over Africa.
“We now have clinicians in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Zambia, and depending on where the patient is, we associate them with a clinician.
“Clinicians who have left the region and are now working abroad but want to return to Africa can go online and consult patients here in Africa.”
Expanding markets for small businesses
Misha Patel and Anusha Makhtani (MSc Management 2016) met at Imperial and co-founded Zola Collective, a platform for exporting products from Africa to the Middle East.
Misha, based in Nairobi, said: “Our common mission is to improve and empower women across the continent, we have realized that there is a big gap in the workforce between men and women.
“Women are doing so much in terms of harvesting and producing unique and natural products, so we wanted to help them scale and give them a stable source of income.”
Anusha, who operates in one of their key markets, Dubai, said: “One of the ways we are trying to introduce is to promote African products in international markets so that the products are attractive to higher class and luxury. .
“We are trying to unite all these small businesses on one platform.
“When COVID came along, there were a lot of small business owners who couldn’t access the markets, so we connected more and more small businesses to help them and give them the skills to sell online.”
Expanding access to education
Niche Ligon (Science Media Production 2011) is a social entrepreneur with experience in media and science as well as a passion for education. She is the co-founder and CEO of Ubongo, a leading African manufacturer of educational programs for children.
It now reaches 24 million families across the continent every month.
Niche from Tanzania said: “We are trying to provide people with a strong educational foundation that allows them to feel empowered and make decisions, go out and solve problems.
“We try to give people a solid educational foundation.” Niche Ligon Founder of Ubongo
“The idea came when I went back to Tanzania and Kenya and met people at the Innovation Center and we all asked how we can provide localized quality education but using technologies that people already have.
“We wanted to create really great educational content and make sure we can bring it to many children from any device they can get.
“It has a big impact and we see a 12% increase in cognitive development, such as reading and literacy, after daily viewing for a month.”
Entrepreneurs spoke at the Alumni Innovation for East: Stories from East Africa event, chaired by Tim Weiss, Associate Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Imperial College.
Dr Weiss, who wrote about the digital revolution in Kenya, said: “Today we are witnessing the last decade with a large community of creators, manufacturers and innovators. This is quite different from what the face of East Africa looked like just 10 years ago.”