Dr. Ismail D. Badjie is the man behind the success story called Innovarx Global Health, a private company contributing immensely to the Gambia‘s Healthcare system. Dr. Badjie and his team are saving lives by improving service delivery and quality health care services to humanity.
Innovarx Global Health has modern healthcare solutions and affordable access locally, thus enabling widespread access to quality and affordable care for Gambians.
LamToro News had an interview with him and below is the full interview.
1. Can you introduce yourself?
I was born in Banjul to two amazing parents, Dembo Badjie of Bansang & Haddy Ndong of Half-Die Banjul. I spent some part of my childhood in Belgium and New York before moving back to Gambia, where I spent formidable years in primary school, middle school, and high school. (Ndow’s Comprehensive and Gambia High School). I come from a supportive family of 5 siblings and am married now with a beautiful wife and a three-year-old daughter who live in Charlotte, NC USA.
2. Tell us about your academic background and employment record.
I graduated as a science student and Head Boy from Gambia High School in 2003 and transitioned back to the US to start my undergraduate studies at Historically Black College Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee, graduating in 2008 with a degree in chemistry. I then started my Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) program at Purdue University (West Lafayette, Indiana) graduating in 2013.
I started my career in community pharmacy with retail giant Walgreens and accumulated 5 years of experience before becoming a licensed pharmacist in the State of North Carolina. My tenure at Walgreens was filled with significant leadership opportunities managing community pharmacies in rural and urban North Carolina, including a 24-hour Pharmacy that specialized in HIV management and a total yearly revenue of $16 Million. I resigned from my position at Walgreens in February 2019 to pursue Innovarx Global Health full-time.
3. How did the idea for your business come about?
Seeing the disparities in access to healthcare in the Gambia compared to the United States put me in a problem-solving frame of mind when I started visiting home again as a young professional. Working as a community pharmacy leader in the United States exposed me to new trends in the adoption of technology in healthcare that made me realize a leap frog opportunity was possible. Contrary to popular belief, some parts of rural America struggle with similar barriers to access to quality healthcare compared to some parts of Africa. One aspect about our relationship to healthcare, like many things we consume on the continent, is a heavy reliance on Gambians abroad to send money home via remittances often with little control over the effective use of the funds once a money transfer pick up was made. We wanted to change that with our business model. Many people abroad have sleepless nights worrying about the quality of care their loved ones receive for healthcare and if the COVID-19 thought us anything, it was that buying a plane ticket to leave Gambia for basic healthcare services was not a guarantee. Today, with Innovarx, we have truly democratized access to healthcare in the entire Gambia and have created a new world for Gambians outside to SPEND money on care they can trust instead of SENDING money for care they cannot audit.
4. What was your key driving force to become an entrepreneur?
My mother’s side of the family. I come from a lineage of entrepreneurs going back to beloved late grandmother Aja Fatim Mbenga of half-die who had one of the first retail stores (No.8) at Albert Market, Banjul built in the mid-nineteenth century. My mother Haddy took over the business from my grandmother and I essentially grew up in an entrepreneurial household, seeing my mom build on the legacy of her mother by providing tremendous value for so many families. It was business school for me even before I had an inclination that school was in session. From a human aspect, my grandmother also suffered a fate similar to many Gambians when she died at 56 from diabetes and hypertension prematurely. Two diseases that have wrecked havoc in our family because of our genetic predisposition. Her death robbed us (her grandkids) of so many memories and at the core of it was a recalcitrant lack of proper access to basic preventative and chronic disease management care that has plagued our nation since independence. What many saw as problems in our health system, I saw as opportunities to transplant some of the best practices in care back home on the continent to give many of our people a better quality of life. My mother today is also living with diabetes and hypertension but her outcomes are significantly different because an Innovarx exist to provide her with the quality of care she deserves. My “WHY” as an entrepreneur will always be rooted in being an access equalizer for people on the continent. Every human being defines health and wellness in their own way and we (Innovarx) simply want to provide value and help them live meaningful lives.
5. How did you come up with the name for your company?
Innovarx’s etiology comes from two words. “Innova” as in something New and “RX” being the universal symbol of a prescription or a solution. So “Innovarx” pronounced “InnovahRex” means A NEW SOLUTION TO GLOBAL HEALTH.
6. How did you raise funding for your business?
The journey of fundraising never ends, unfortunately, in startup businesses with ambitions of scaling up. The initial investment began with our individual resources as founding members at the idea stage, then the company did a typical friend and family SEED round right before launching in 2019. Our company has used a standard convertible note vehicle since then leading up to this year. Plans are in place to conduct a SERIES A funding round for our expansion plans this year.
7. How do you build a successful customer base?
By speaking directly to them and actually focusing our business model on solving real-life problems. At the core of any business is the ability to create value and be highly efficient in addressing pain points, which, in healthcare, is a never-ending opportunity pool.
There’s always hesitancy in an African-owned enterprise setting up on the continent because unfortunately more scrutiny is often placed on what is ours versus what is foreign. We have always embraced the opportunity to earn the trust of customers through consistent excellence in service delivery.
We have a special relationship with Gambians in the diaspora who are half of our entire customer base. To them, what we sell is assurance and peace of mind, knowing that gone are the days where the outcomes of their loved ones living in rural are urban Gambia are tied to their ability to travel for care.
8. How do you market your business, and which tactics have been most successful?
The diaspora, being such a valuable customer base, led us from inception to leverage social media to speak directly to them using free mediums. In the Gambia, our corporate social responsibility program “What’s Your Number” has been a significant avenue to democratize access to care and connect new customers to our Innovarx ecosystem. The initiative is a first-of-its-kind program that provides free health screenings for diabetes and hypertension to all Gambians all across the country.
The regulatory framework of the Gambia that restricts healthcare companies from advertising their services hides our value on the market to a certain extent and allows for more people and companies to get away with providing mediocre health services but we have trust in our organic penetration into the market.
Healthcare is one of those sectors where excellence in service delivery always creates a ripple effect of trust and high demand from customers all over. Our focus, therefore, always remains on controlling the consistency in service.
9. How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
It’s the heaviest price to pay when it comes to willing an idea into existence. Ambition can sometimes be a curse because what may normally appear as a glamorous life of an entrepreneur in this day and age of vanity and social media is often far from reality. The quality and quantity of time with the people you love can always be collateral damage one has to grapple with. I am blessed to have a supportive immediate family that serve as an emotional, spiritual and financial safety net that gives me the strength to keep building Innovarx. There’s also a very sobering level of risk that comes with putting all of one’s sense of security into a business idea in The Gambia of places, knowing the odds of failure are technically always against you. These elements are never singular in effect, but also weigh heavily on one’s entire family.
I am, because my family is, and has always been, a pillar of strength.
10. What motivates you?
That as humans, we all have a limited amount of time on earth to find a purpose and create value for humanity. That motivates me. The exploration of how God intended to use me and my skill set as an instrument, but also leaving a legacy for my daughter that can also change her disposition in the world. I inherently believe that Innovarx can be a formidable force of good through excellence in service not only in Africa (Which typically comes with a “less than” inference) but across the world. In 2022, with all the technological advancements, healthcare should still not be a problem we (Africans) cannot find sustainable solutions for.
11. How do you generate new ideas?
I am naturally a problem solver. Innovation at its core is simply exploring tools available to solve complex problems in our world. All the ideas with Innovarx are rooted in that very basic principle. I also have a fundamental belief that ideas are planted in our heads for a reason. The planting of it (from God) is FOR US, the execution of it however is ON US.
12. What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?
My greatest fear is never having the opportunity to make up for lost time with people that I love in pursuit of this mammoth of a dream. But fear is general, is something I embrace and seek to understand for what is. Often in life, the caves we fear always hold the treasures we seek, so learning to harness courage and lean into the discomfort that comes with that uncertainty is significant life hack.
Failure is definitely not something I fear when it comes to being an entrepreneur because it’s part of every human experience. It’s meant to be quality control moment in a long continuum of still giving maximum effort that can leave a lasting impact. Spiritually, I believe my relationship with God also allows me to manage fear for what it is, just an illusion.
13. How do you define success?
I don’t. Because success is not a final destination but a long journey with multiple milestones and pitfalls along the way. I have metrics in my life I use to define impact and measure growth, but success is so relative and is often defined by the limitations of what certain environments or people deem as possible. I actually believe our upbringing in Gambia inherently lowers the bar on what is deemed as success and can often breed an insidious sense of contentment and entitlement I don’t necessarily ascribe to when competing on a global level. Only God knows the full extent of our potential to live a life of purpose and manifesting creation through his power. A lot of limitations are a man-made concept and mental models at the end of the day.
14. Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
Yes, being committed to the process of apprenticeship before entrepreneurship. Good leaders, good business people are often students of their craft for a very long time before jumping into the unforgiving world of entrepreneurship. I think we have romanticized the idea of “owning” or “running” a business because of the vanity it comes with in this era of social media but I believe taking the time to spend those proverbial “10,000 hours” author Malcolm Gladwell suggests it takes to build mastery is so important.
I also believe certain life skills are absolutely necessary to survive life as an entrepreneur. You must have a comfortable relationship with discomfort and making sound decisions under constant pressure. And emotional intelligence when dealing with people you serve (customers and teammates ) is just as important to your success as your IQ.
One essential ingredient to having lasting power is being deeply committed to your “WHY”. Your internal compass must always be calibrated in the right direction for the right reasons. It becomes a deep personal contract that will hold you accountable to stick with the journey when (not if) the going gets tough.
15. What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
There’s so much beauty in creation. Especially if the manifestations of ideas willed into existence have faces of the people you care about getting a shot at an improved quality of life. I truly love the process of finding solutions. It provides deep meaning to my life and keeps me sharp being able to form a tribe of like-minded individuals such as the amazing people that work for Innovarx all committed to one mission.
16. What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Two things. Human Experiences and Human Development.
The positive human experiences created for so many people in rural and urban part of the country now having access to the same level of care as people living in the west. I always use the example of our Care Plan Subscribers living upcountry in the Gambia who now receive the same medications, same point of care diagnostics using the same technology as someone living in New York or Atlanta. That human experience and the comfort it brings to their family members abroad is priceless.
From a human development perspective, Innovarx has been a breeding ground for some of the most talented and exemplary young African professionals; who have bought into the vision and have created a culture of excellence (Or pehpeh as we call it) as a way of life. Their commitment to the company and execution of our strategy is way more important than what I can do in my limited time. It’s been such a joy getting to witness their growth and seeing them also find fulfilment in their work.
17. What is your assessment of the country’s current economic situation?
The Gambia is one of the worst places to do business in the world for different reasons. Economically we are stifled with a repugnant lack of opportunities for growth and upward mobility, especially in the youth which is frightening. Our private sector, I also believe, still does not enjoy an openly competitive and nurturing environment to become an engine for economic growth that most nations rely on.
Hope and prayer barely have any inherent value in our country’s situation because we have always had an abundance of those two elements, despite the lack of transformative change. I think a commitment to solving our problems, contributing to job and wealth creation are attributes we need to cultivate in the young people who will be left with a nation to salvage for better or for worse. We all have a role to play.
18. How do you see LamToro’s coming into the Gambian media fraternity?
I believe it is highly welcomed. The media are always deemed the fourth estate in any nation and the objectivity required to keep citizens honest while also taking authorship for stories of our human experience is very critical. The Gambia is definitely far from saturation with media entities, so I wish LamToro utmost success in their quest to add value to society.
19. Any final message?
Just want to thank the entire LamToro team for the opportunity to grace your platform. It always takes a village to raise a child, and I truly consider Innovarx Global Health an ambitious child who has had tremendous support from so many people, including media houses in The Gambia.
I also want to pay homage to all the entrepreneurs in the Gambia, who I am extremely grateful to have as compatriots on a quest to build a better Africa for us all. Too many times only a few get the roses they deserve, but we all are an embodiment of budding renaissance on the continent of Africa. I see you all and remain inspired by the value you keep adding in the ecosystem.
20. Thank you for granting us this Interview.