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30 May 2017
  • Company of the Month

Yapili | Connecting people in Africa to licensed physicians

Health at hand, that’s what this month’s company YAPILI aims to deliver. The company started in November 2014 by a group of four young entrepreneurs who met in East Africa through the startup incubator, Ampion. Eventually their team grew to include skills ranging from front-end development to public health and policy expertise. Last year, YAPILI opened an office in The Hague. Ms. Sherzel Smit, co-founder of Yapili, spoke to us about their first year of doing business in The Hague.


For those who are unfamiliar with your company, can you tell us a bit about your company?
“YAPILI delivers health at hand – it connects African people to licensed physicians, both locally and internationally. We provide an online platform and an Android app for health advice and follow-up as well as secure digital health records. It is easy to use, maintain and scale. Inspired by the phenomenon of gig-economy and end-user platforms in other industries, YAPILI brings the innovative model to healthcare and relies on three elements leading it to success at scale: real-time, crowd-based and peer-to-peer. YAPILI opens up borders and changes the way the world collaborates for health.


Access to healthcare services is difficult for the vast majority of Africans. Many live great distances from the clinic, must wait in long lines, and pay unaffordable fees. Meanwhile, Africa is rapidly advancing in technology. By the end 2017, 30% of Africans will have a smartphone, and internet penetration is 70% in countries such as Kenya. People are using mobile technology to interact, send money and do so much to enhance their daily lives. So we thought, what if we could leverage mobile technology to expand access to healthcare. What if health advice could be at hand? This is YAPILI.”


 What does Yapili mean or stand for?
“YAPILI means ‘Second’ in Swahili – we like to think of it as a second – alternative – way of seeking health advice. YAPILI also sounds like ‘happily’ which makes it a cheerful name for an initiative bringing better health to more people around the world.”


 In 2016 you opened your first office in The Hague. Why did you decide to establish in The Hague and what has been your overall experience in the first year of doing business here?
“We felt that The Hague was the right place for our social impact initiative right away. It has a great combination of NGO’s, businesses and knowledge institutes, which offers a lot of opportunities for collaboration. The first thing we noticed when setting up in The Hague was the fact that the social impact business is something that everyone talks about in the city. Like-minded people and a fully packed agenda with events and forums allowed us to meet partners, employees and advisory board members.


With the municipality actively involved in supporting social enterprises there is a lot of advantages for startups like YAPILI to be in The Hague. Our main takeaway from our first year is that it does require a proactive approach to benefit from these opportunities. We found that many NGO’s are interested in working with innovative startups but it’s not yet in their DNA to actively search for new partnerships.”


 You are supported by the municipality of The Hague through their Impact City Program. Can you explain what this support entails?
“When we first met with the city representatives we had an idea and a vision. Everything else from that point to where we are today is, to a big extent, thanks to the confidence expressed in our concept and the team by the municipality of The Hague and their partners. We have been provided with the numerous opportunities to grow our initiative from the very ground: partnering up with regional university and research community, logistical and legal assistance, etc.”


Can you tell us something about the recent developments of YAPILI?
“Since the start, we have been able to successfully launch our platform across Africa and finalize our Android application. This was a very important milestone as the Android app will optimize the user experience and the increase of mobile usage will offer more security and privacy to users over shared desktops. This was actually a direct result from our presence in The Hague as we formed a strategic partnership with First Line Software, a leading global IT company that also has an office in The Hague and who supported us in building the Android application. The main focus now is on business development and scaling the platform further.”


Trying to find finance for you project can be time consuming we imagine. How is this experience for you and are you still in search of extra funding to kick-start/launch your platform in this phase?
Indeed, this is our next major milestone – bringing in a successful round of investment. Thanks to our own efforts, the support from the city and the partners we could get where we are right now: the platform is up and running from both technical and legal point of view. We extended the accessibility to the platform through a mobile app, we on-boarded our first users and first doctors and we already see the activity on the platform picking up big time. However, we are starting to reach the limits of what we can do ourselves considering our limited resources.


Further technical improvements of the platform and its functionalities, higher scale in terms of user care and data storage, big data framework and other growth opportunities require further resources. We hope to find strategic investors and partners who are able to see the benefits and the long term vision of stepping into a traction-based business model for mHealth in Africa and beyond.


The next step will be crucial as we want to carefully find a strategic investor that is in line with the core values of YAPILI and can bring in both a financial impulse as well as complementary expertise.  We already noticed that there is a lot of interest in the developments in the African healthcare market and our activities, so during the next months of our pilot we want to start the discussions with potential investment partners.”


 Are there any major new developments planned that we should keep an eye out for?
“Yes, the Android app will soon be available on Google Play store, which is exciting. And we are also looking for vertical market partners (more specifically, for the instances of maternal care and diabetes & hypertension) because we think YAPILI has great potential in systematizing care for chronic conditions. On top of that we are planning to establish better local presence with local partners in our target markets, particularly Botswana, Kenya and Tanzania, over the course of the next few months.”


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