Samuel Okwuada has taken it upon himself to save lives by assisting in reducing the number of counterfeit drugs in Africa, despite having to study pharmacy due to negotiations with his parents, who preferred a different career path for him.
Through his platform, Remedial Health – a health-tech startup digitising the pharmaceutical supply chain, Samuel is ensuring that users of pharmaceutical products do not have to worry and suffer the consequences related to the authenticity of the products they get from localised pharmacies and markets.
“I didn’t always want to be a Pharmacist, I wanted to be a pilot. Pharmacy was a negotiation with my parents because I didn’t see myself becoming a doctor, I didn’t like certain subjects like maths, physics and so on. So pharmacy was more like a negotiation with my parents since I was discouraged from flying as the first son of my family.”Samuel Okwuada, CEO and Co-founder of Remedial Health
Apart from helping to reduce counterfeit pharmaceutical products, the B2B company provides software for pharmacies and hospitals to manage their inventory and sales while also delivering the necessary finance and credit to help these businesses grow.
Before Remedial Health, Okwuada started his entrepreneurial journey while still at the university, where he built SaaS products. He was 17 years old when he built Macbundler, his first product. He later sold that product to a private US company after a shift in that market.
Samuel launched Oyoyo, a fashion B2C company while experimenting with developing a web scraper tool. After finding it somewhat complex to combine that with his studies, he also later sold that product.
After completing his pharmacy studies at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, he returned to Nigeria and joined forces with Victor Benjamin, a pharmaceutical field sales agent, to start Remedial.
In this Installment of Founders’ Spotlight, Samuel Okwuada takes us through his tech journey, founding Remedial Health, saving lives and fighting counterfeits in the Pharmaceutical industry, financing businesses and helping pharmaceutical products become affordable for the last user in Nigeria.
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Samuel Okwuada’s delve into Pharmtech
According to Samuel, becoming a founder of a Pharmtech platform wasn’t always his plan. Becoming a pharmacist was something he had to negotiate for since he could not study to be a Pilot, which was his initial aspiration.
“I did not see myself creating a Pharmtech platform at any time. My parents are entrepreneurs, so I grew up in an entrepreneurship family. Moving outside the country to study was what opened my eyes to young people doing great things and questioning my purpose.
However, I knew how to code from age 13, and then reading articles on TechCrunch and seeing young people doing great things and launching companies, I was asking myself questions that spurred me to do something myself.“
He claims that pharmacy, on the other hand, in school was somehow confusing because sitting in lecture theatres sometimes being taught sought of didn’t seem interesting to him. However, it was the idea of merging what he studied in school with tech that got him into Pharmtech now.
Software developer at 13
Being a software developer at 13 years of age is not so common in this part of the world, maybe because of the complexities associated with learning and picking it up as a skill. First is the time and then the needed broadband connection to maintain a consistent learning curve.
However, Samuel Okwuada claims he was a self-taught software developer at 13.
“It was the days of massive desktop computers with long cables. So when I came second in class, that was my request because we had it in the lab at my school. So one day, I visited an older friend who had just learnt HTML and was working in the cybercafe. So he showed me what he had just learnt, turning a blank white internet explorer page to blue. It was mind-blowing. So I asked him how he did all that, which was my initiation into learning.
From there, I picked up HTML from him, and the rest was finding tutorials online, learning, experimenting and using HTML to do my further math assignments and other calculations. Once I get a hang of the formulas, I just input them in and get my results.”
Samuel disclosed that studying outside the country and seeing the efficient service delivery in various sectors of the economy played a major influence in wanting to create something similar to Pharmtech.
Samuel cites his experience from interning in a retail pharmacy in the UK. He claims the efficient service delivery and seamless operations of the Pharmtech industry there influenced his mind and created a nudge to replicate something of such back home.
Remedial Health’s value proposition
According to Goldstein industry Intelligence analyst predictions, the Nigerian pharmaceuticals industry is expected to expand at a CAGR of 9.1% from 2017 to 2030. According to its report, the Nigerian government’s efforts to combat counterfeit drugs, curtail medical tourism outside of the country, and realize the overly ambitious goal of resuming the National HIV Vaccine Plan are the main factors driving the country’s pharmaceutical market.
This doesn’t take away the fact that healthcare spending in Nigeria is predominantly private, with out-of-pocket spending accounting for 70% of total health expenditure in 2016, compared with just 7 % in South Africa. Much of these private transactions are facilitated by local pharmacies and markets that have tendencies to have proliferated drugs and pharmaceutical products.
“What we are doing apart from solving the problems of how do you get medicines from manufacturers to patients in an effective way and eradicating counterfeits which is a major problem in itself, a 40% problem in Nigeria alone, what we also do is cut out the three to five middlemen that would have been in that chain of delivering pharmaceutical products to the last patient.“
The numbers so far
For Samuel, Remedial Health is still a success in the making. Notwithstanding, since the launch of Remedial last year, the company has attained some milestones in terms of revenues and onboarded businesses.
In the past 1 year, we have grown from a team of 4 to now 160. We have also gone from Lagos mainly to about 26 states that we have customers in. We have about 4000-5000 customers at the moment (hospitals and Pharmacies), and then we have been able to bring some investors and partnerships on board, both locally, regionally and internationally, one of which is YC.Samuel Okwuada, Co-founder and CEO of Remedial Health
So many challenges characterise a startup’s life cycle, from raising funds to logistics, generating sales and many other internal operations, which sometimes might be burdensome. However, Samuel claims that the challenges he is facing as a founder are general problems faced by all in the industry, which are environmental challenges.
I wouldn’t even say the problems are unique to pharmtech founders, it’s a general Nigerian problem. Sometimes it’s bank transfer issues, the effect of the cashless policy, and fuel scarcity which is a big one, seeing that we do lots of our logistics in-house apart from using third-parties. And so you need to look for Nigeria solutions to solve Nigeria’s problems.Samuel Okwuada
He says some of these problems are not what you have to face outside the country, making it easy for businesses and tech startups to thrive. He says these basic issues and problems have been sorted out systematically.
When quizzed about what he would have done differently if given the chance to go back and correct and do things differently, Samuel says he wouldn’t “say there is a single thing” he would have done differently.
“By the nature of a startup, if you don’t take action immediately, someone else would, it probably dies a natural death, you might not feel the way you feel about an idea at a different time than the way you feel at that moment. So I’m sort of always ready to take action. Notwithstanding, we have made mistakes along the way, we have learnt from those mistakes and we have moved on.”Samuel Okwuada
So many things can inspire a person to do what they do. For some, it is the love for their jobs and putting a smile on people’s faces; for others, it is the need to survive the country’s harsh economic situation, while for others, it is perhaps the need to come out from their shells.
For Samuel, it is the passion to build things.
“I like to build things; even as a 12-year-old, when most of my mates had stopped playing with sand, I still played with sand to build castles. Even when my parents bought toys for me then, I preferred destroying them to building my own using the components of what was destroyed. I just preferred what I built for myself to what was gotten me. So I like to build.
Especially what we are doing now, building and having to see what we are doing, just like the counterfeit figure in Nigeria now, which is 40%, but NAFDAC said it is 41%. At Remedial today, every single day we are probably processing 50,000 – 100,000 packs of medicine (probably underestimated) because as of 2022, we had processed over a 100millionpacks of medicines.
So for 40%, we have processed and supplied over 40 million packs of medicines to pharmacies which have gone to patients that would have been counterfeited, but because of the work we are doing, 40 million packs have been replaced with genuine products. That in itself gets me out of bed every day.“
He adds that the mortality rate of counterfeit drugs, which is not exactly stipulated, shows that hundreds of thousands die from counterfeited drugs; hence, having even to save a life is something for him.
Finding a striking balance between everyday life and leading a major Pharmtech company in Nigeria can be a lot. However, Samuel claims that there isn’t something like that for him. Because apparently, his job is on the go and has become part of his life too.
He says pretty much everything he does as a founder is compressed and part of the flow of his life. His meetings, engagements with investors, and phone calls are all a flow which might culminate in him taking a break by streaming movies on Netflix. He passes time watching Netflix and chilling, he says.
Relationship with Co-founder
Remedial Health is co-founder by Victor Benjamin, a passionate salesman with a well-established background of over ten years in pharma sales. According to Samuel, although Victor doesn’t care much for the spotlight, doing Remedial health would have been impossible without Victor.
Samuel Okwuada met Victor during his internship for a pharmaceutical company on his return to Nigeria. An internship he took up to gain proper knowledge and understanding of what the market and daily operations of a pharmacy look like, and there he was paired with Victor who was a sales rep with the company.
“That sort of cemented our board and relationship. We knew each other since then and he supported me even when I just started remedial back then although still at his initial job. Since he was a driven person like me, I told him I needed him to be fully with me to take Remedial to the next stage.”Samuel Okwuada
In relaying other founders that inspire him, Samuel mentions Elon Musk, who he praises for his doggedness in doing what he does, building multiple innovative companies. Also, Microsoft CEO, Bill Gates, and locally, Flutterwave and Reliance health CEOs, Olugbenga Agboola and Femi Kuti. he says having to speak with these persons, he constantly marvels at their intelligence and insights.
The first quarter of 2023 is gone, and every founder will be evaluating their business performance so far in terms of revenues and sales. However, for a successful 2023, it would culminate in successive quarters, hence not taking off legs from the pedal.
“A successful 2023 for Remedial is first of all remaining relevant, multiplying sales by 5, growing revenue 3x, executing plans for management and team and personally growing as a CEO. Seeing that the company is growing and expanding to about 200 personnel, there is the need for constant growth and evolution.“
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