When it comes to effectively managing multiple responsibilities, Ehizele Ijeoma Joseph-Ebare is one person we admire. Currently studying medicine at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Ehizele started her first venture at 21 because of her love for people and a passion to change their lives. Now, she is about to start a for-profit company that leverages technology to provide accessible healthcare.
I am studying medicine in the first place because of the opportunity to change and possibly save someone’s life. I then considered, what if an idea I have can change millions of lives not just the ones I see on a day to day basis. This led me down the entrepreneurial path.
When she isn’t working to make healthcare more accessible to all, she loves dancing, listening to music (especially anything by Flavour) and reading.
What is your company, The Sustainable Medical Initiative, about?
To keep it short, The Sustainable Medical Initiative (The SMI) focuses on introducing telemedicine to Africa in a new and unique way using technology. I want to deliver health in a new way to the African Continent and perhaps beyond.
The SMI, through various products, will target people from all walks of life who are in need of medical attention. Being sick is hard enough, accessing health should be easy. We bring healthcare to you, eliminating barriers and the need for the ill patient to actively seek it.
I know I am being rather cryptic but watch this space! I hope to roll it out this year and expand fast.
How will The Sustainable Medical Initiative change the world?
The healthcare industry is so vital because every human being is susceptible to falling ill. As a student of medicine, I have come to understand that the human body, though so intricately designed, inevitably meets glitches that result in illness. This means that amazing health ideas literally can change the world. My idea aims to break down the barriers to accessing healthcare. This is something people all over the world, particularly in the Global South, experience.
We will make it easy for rich and poor alike to see a doctor, get a diagnosis and get recommendation on treatment. Say goodbye to closing times, long waits, long trips, all these things that are almost unbearable when you are ill.
Why did you decide to start your own company?
Well, I am a young woman who believes that in life the real tragedy is not death, but a life without purpose. I work with the motivation that my vocation is to change people’s lives and that’s exactly what the SMI will do. I am also a charity founder in the UK and have an NGO based in Nigeria. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to not only change lives, but save them.
Tell us more about the the charity and NGO you founded.
My charity is called the SMI – the Sustainable Medical Initiative, the NGO the same. I set them up because I know I will want my business to have a strong link to social responsibility not just a page about charity on a website. Also, I feel that charities tend to leave a culture of dependency. I stand for something different and that is long term change. The people I help, I want them to be able to help themselves and even others, not just wait for someone else to come along. The charity is based in London and we have partnered with people who will be happy to donate medical items to Nigeria. The NGO side is in talks with hospitals and the Imo state government (where my mother is from) to partner on helping there, of course when the political scene is settled.
How do you manage being a medical student, having a charity, an NGO and now starting a new business?
It certainly is not easy. It means you waste no time. If most people think about their day, there are moments of hanging around or procrastination. I used to have those too! However, deciding to take this on and start young, means I have no dull moment. It’s about productivity. If I’m not doing business I’m doing med school.
Why don’t you have a cofounder? Who helps out with your business?
I do have people who will work on my project with me but I wouldn’t say they are cofounders. This is not for any particular reason. I have a lot of support and people who believe in my idea and have seen my vision. The business is currently transitioning from idea to set up stage, and we aim to launch later in the year.
How did you feel when you heard you made the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme list?
I was very excited. It took a while to register. I had just finished an exam and also just received an offer to study a Bsc in Global Health that I applied for. It was such an intense day. My automatic reaction was to call my brother who always makes me feel good about whatever I achieve. I then called my parents who were very proud of me; their approval is something I have always sought. However, I must say, the happiness of winning was swiftly followed by the realisation that this journey has only just begun. An idea in itself is great but its execution determines its success.
The most difficult part about applying was the wait! The application process in my opinion was straight forward.
What do you expect your business will achieve with the programme benefits?
Well starting with the obvious, I will be able to start up with the funding provided. In addition, my business will gain some weight to approach other investors; being a TEEP winner is an achievement I would say. Fundamentally, my business will now have a CEO/founder (myself) who is much more equipped to manage this company after the duration of this programme, which has already shown to be educational and thought-provoking.
Any words of encouragement or advice to entrepreneurs like yourself?
As a business woman there are three ‘categories’ I fall under: An entrepreneur, a woman, and a young one at that.
As I have said to many entrepreneurs already, focus on your motivation for business. Why do you do what you are doing? Whose life do you want to touch? What about our continent do you want to change? This is what will wake you at night. This will push you when things do not seem to be going your way.
To women as myself, it is crucial to remember your dignity has no price. In the world we live in many will try and exploit you based on the fact that you are a woman. This is not an excuse to succumb. Have confidence in your ideas and keep pushing regardless of the obstacles along the way.
Finally to those who are young. I started setting this up since I was 21. It is never too early. Do not doubt yourself based on your age. If you have a good idea, run with it. A battle is won with advisors. Do not fail to seek advice and guidance, but never be discouraged by your age. All the more time to make mistakes, learn from them and finally, to succeed.