A series of Kenyan technology Entrepreneur Mike Macharia has spent the past two decades helping enterprises such as East Africa’s largest telco Safaricom create the infrastructure that powers their growth. His firm, Seven Seas Technologies, has previously worked with governments – participating in the first implementation of decentralized service delivery centers – Huduma Centers where citizens can access almost all of them through a single portal.
A few years ago, Macharia was contracted by the Kenyan government to build the now-abandoned National Hospital Information System, which he says would have transformed healthcare delivery in the country. The end of that project, in 2019, however, did not kill his creativity; Instead, it inspired him to start Ponia Health as a marketplace for healthcare services.
“The completion of that project gave me a moment of self-reflection and I realized that I had spent my entire life building hardware and software for enterprises. But for us (the masses) I never thought of building technology. I decided to build from the bottom up, and that’s how Ponia was created,” the startup’s Chief Visionary Officer (CVO) told TechCrunch.
A personal emergency proved the timeliness of the idea.
“I was driving home, and I had a nosebleed, and that’s the second time it’s happened. I met with my doctor, and he asked me to do some tests. But I think he suspected that he would not take them; It was a busy day anyway. So, he sent a lab technician to my office to take a sample. After the results and doctor’s review, I contacted a pharmacy that uses a driver to deliver the medication.
“In that moment, I realized everything was okay. The doctors, labs, pharmacies, payment and delivery providers are there, but why aren’t they connected to each other? I realized that no one had tried to integrate this entire ecosystem into one. It was something we had to do. why not?”
And that’s how Ponia began to build as a “true patient-centric platform.”
Ponea Health is a multi-level marketplace that integrates patients, healthcare and other service providers into the payment space.
It makes it easy for consumers to select physicians, facilities and/or health care packages based on a variety of factors including need, location and fees – as cost is also factored in during the listing process.
Once a user meets with a doctor and depending on the severity of their case, the consultation is done either in person or at a practice. And, where a physician recommends tests, Ponea connects the patient to a laboratory provider for sample collection.
“We also have our own phlebotomists who sometimes collect blood samples because we realized that we need to start taking control of the last mile experience for patients,” says Macharia, who co-founded Ponia with Aksha Shah.
The entire process is managed and supported by the customers through a call center (Medical Operation Center) that ensures the patient’s progress, from the time of admission to the dispensing of medication, he said.
To be listed on Ponea’s platform, providers are first vetted and rated, using its own rating system, which uses information from government databases and physician certifications. Additionally, patients can rate providers based on customer experience and satisfaction based on a set of metrics helping physicians.
Ponya was founded in June 2019 and as of January has registered more than 400 health and wellness professionals with more than 15,000 customers in addition to a 54% shift in the sector following the Covid-induced growth in people seeking telehealth. Telehealth is said to bridge the health care access gap in Africa, a continent with the world’s highest disease burden and lowest patient-to-doctor ratio.
As telehealth adoption continues, Ponya targets to grow its customer base by 500,000 over the next three years and expand its presence in four other markets, including South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and Morocco.
“We’ve built a scalable product that can be easily integrated with others because from the word go we’re going to build a platform that should work anywhere in the world. That doesn’t mean we’re not building what’s already there. We’re looking at strategic engagement by allowing API integration globally,” said Macharia.
“And we’ve got some really great companies to work with, both globally and domestically, which includes a global mental health marker we’re currently evaluating, and will soon be integrated into the platform,” he said. Platform can collect data from wearable devices.
Ponea’s offering includes a chronic disease management component for patients and their caregivers, such as nurses, to integrate data and information for better disease management.
The startup only offers services to SMEs or businesses that cannot afford general insurance or outpatient services. Employees can access services from a pre-selected list of providers, and unlike insurance, the Ponea wallet balance never expires.
To date, Ponia has attracted $4.3 million in funding from Afia Partners, Shield Capital, Seven Seas Technologies and several angel investors including Bavesh Shah, Herman Langen, Franciscus Allstorn and Kalpesh Mehta.