Helium Health gets $30M, backed by AXA IM Alts and 23andMe’s Anne Wojcicki

Helium Health, the African startup that provides software-as-a-service tools, financing, and insights for healthcare providers and public health organizations, has raised $30 million in Series B funding. 

The news is coming three years after the Lagos-headquartered healthtech secured a $10 million Series A and 18 months following a rare Africa-GCC deal involving UAE-based healthcare provider-patient interaction platform Meddy. 

Co-founder and CEO Adegoke Olubusi, in an interview with TechCrunch, provided an update on the acquisition. HeliumDoc, the product merging Meddy’s telemedicine capabilities and Helium Health’s revenue cycle management service, is being used in Nigeria with East African expansion in sight. Meanwhile, HeliumOS, the core product digitizing electronic medical records (EMR) and hospital management solutions across Africa, is being rolled out in the GCC. 

Indeed, the new investment will allow Helium Health to drive growth in these verticals. However, it is the fintech offering HeliumCredit that will likely receive more capital concentration as the healthtech startup plans to “expand its reach… and increase its lending portfolio to 1,000 healthcare facilities by 2024 in partnership with the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC),” per a statement. 

With 90% of African health facilities run on paper, Helium Health started out digitizing healthcare operations and EMR records for healthcare providers via software, providing them with data and analytics into various touchpoints. But it was only a matter of time before it soon figured that financing was another critical need facing its customers, hence birthing HeliumCredit. 

Africa’s healthcare sector is heavily undercapitalized, with a financing deficit of $66 billion per year. Healthcare funding disbursed by African governments declining by 8% over the last 15 years, and 57% of private health facilities in Nigeria never getting access to external sources of funding (despite being the first point of call for many Nigerians) further highlights the dire state of healthcare financing on the continent.  

This lack of capital trickles down, for example, to the number of health workers that are employed on the continent;  Africa has one of the lowest health worker-to-patient ratios in the world; 31 out of Africa’s 54 countries have fewer than ten doctors to 1,000 patients, leading to average wait times of around 2 hours. 

“In the process of covering the full breadth of health facilities with our HeliumOS product, one of the deep challenges we found out was around healthcare financing deficits on the continent,” said the chief executive who co-founded the startup with Dimeji Sofowora and Tito Ovia. “There are many healthcare facilities making money and are profitable but cannot access financing in Nigeria and most Sub-Saharan African countries because banks don’t have insights into how these hospitals operate. HeliumCredit is us essentially leveraging our end-to-end software product and providing a digital financing solution where our customers can apply for financing and get responses in under 48 hours.”

Launched as a digital finance product in 2020, HeliumCredit uses billing and operational insights obtained from its HeliumOS software to assess the creditworthiness of its customers. The startup, which lends on behalf of financing partners, primarily banks, also pieces data from credit bureaus and traditional systems to strengthen its credit decision framework. 

Since the healthtech’s Series A investment, it has grown its credit from $250,000 to a handful of healthcare facilities to more than $3.5 million across 200+ healthcare facilities in Nigeria. These facilities, including hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and diagnostics centers, have used the loans to purchase medical equipment and medications in bulk, expand their locations and increase their top line, according to Helium Health, whose overall business has also witnessed a boost.

According to Olubusi, embedded credit enables SaaS businesses such as Helium Health to scale faster in emerging markets. His opinion is based on the fact that despite launching several years later, HeliumCredit could make the company more money than HeliumOS due to its outsized demand. “We’ve noticed healthcare facilities trying to digitize because they want more access to financing,” said the CEO, who also mentioned that Helium Health records high loan repayment rates. “And as they access long-term loans while we provide them with financial training and tools, they have a stronger incentive to want to digitize because part of the reason they haven’t been lended to historically because of the lack of a digital system which we now provide.”

Helium Health

Helium Health executives; Co-founders Adegoke Olubusi and Dimeji Sofowora (middle).

The YC-backed healthtech startup claims to be the widest-reaching EMR platform in West Africa, used by over 10,000 health workers across 1,000 facilities to care for over 1 million African patients. The 150-man team spread across ten countries and operating in eight, including six African countries (Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Liberia, Kenya and Uganda) and two GCC markets (Qatar and the UAE), is also looking to deepen its collaborations within the public health and global health communities, another core focus of its work. 

Global health funders contribute about 15% of total health expenditure in sub-Saharan Africa and play a critical role in tackling the continent’s leading causes of death, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and maternal and child mortality. The problem, however, with these organizations is that they work individually, which further silos the healthcare market that is already profoundly fragmented.

Helium Health wants to solve this by leading technology efforts for these health entities and helping them to integrate previously siloed public health program efforts with broader vertical and horizontal initiatives to create interconnected health information systems. In the past year, the seven-year-old healthtech startup has received grant funding from organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and MSD for Mothers to execute projects under their maternal health program strategies. 

Equity financing, on the other hand, has come from the likes of lead investor AXA IM Alts, a multi-asset investor and subsidiary of AXA Group, one of the most prominent insurance groups globally. One of AXA IM Alts’ impact strategies is improving global financial inclusion and connectivity; hence its investment in Helium Health is strategic from the perspective of the startup’s healthcare financing product, and also, as Olubusi describes, AXA is “the leading health insurance provider in most of the countries where we operate and the majority of the health facilities we serve have contracts with it.”

Jonathan Dean, the head of impact investing at AXA IM Alts (also an investor in African fintech MFS Africa), in a statement, reiterates this point by referring to Helium Health’s play of “providing digital solutions to improve the quality and efficacy of health services in resource-constrained environments while also directly equipping health sector enterprises with affordable financial services” as reasons for investing. 

New investors in the Series B round, the second largest in the stage for any African healthtech after General Atlantic- and fellow YC-backed startup Reliance Health, include co-founder and CEO of 23andMe Anne Wojcicki, Capria Ventures, Angaza Capital and Flatworld Partners. Existing investors Global Ventures, Tencent, Ohara Pharmaceuticals, LCY Group, WTI and AAIC also participated in the growth round.

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