How RxAll is Combatting Fake Drugs and Improving Healthcare Access in…
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How RxAll is Combatting Fake Drugs and Improving Healthcare Access in Africa

After falling into a 21-day coma from bad medicine purchased at a Nigerian pharmacy, Adebayo Alonge (MPA 2024) was inspired to improve access to high-quality medications for Africans.

pharmacy storefront in Africa

“When I was growing up in Nigeria, I was in a 21-day coma after taking medicine my dad bought from our neighborhood pharmacist,” says Adebayo Alonge (MPA 2024), describing the motivation for his lifelong work: improving access to high-quality medications and healthcare services in Africa.

Alonge went to pharmacy school at the University of Ibadan, in Nigeria, to better understand “why poor-quality medicines were abundant in Africa.” He learned about the multi-billion-dollar counterfeit drug market in Africa and the hundreds of thousands of deaths these fake medicines cause each year. He knew more could be done to address this tragedy.

Today, Alonge is working towards a master of public administration at Harvard Kennedy School while simultaneously leading RxAll, a health tech startup he co-founded in 2016. He shares how RxAll got started, how COVID has impacted on the business, how he’s overcoming challenges around rapid growth and fundraising, and how he’s leveraging Harvard Innovation Labs resources to plan for the company’s next phase.

AI-powered hardware addresses an unmet healthcare need

Attending the Yale School of Management for his master’s in advanced management, Alonge met Amy Kao and Wei Liu. Together, they teamed up to build a business that uses technology to validate drugs’ quality for African pharmacists and wholesalers.

“The other platforms in the digital health [space] were trying to replace the existing players… looking to roll up pharmacies…or wholesales,” says Alonge. “But the issue was [that] they were not really solving a problem; there was already an existing supply chain of wholesalers and pharmacies. What was missing was the quality piece. Most of the existing players were not doing any kind of quality assurance.”

To address this issue, RxAll’s co-founders began developing an AI-powered handheld scanner for drug quality checking. In just a few years, his team built the hardware and software, and secured more than 100 pharmacy customers.

Reflecting on the early years of the company, Alonge shared his experience going to France to pitch RxAll in the BNP Paribas Deep Tech Challenge, which he calls “the Oscars for deep tech work.” RxAll won the competition — “something that no Black person had won before,” Alonge says. This recognition remains one of his proudest moments as co-founder and CEO of the company: “In winning [that] competition, there was a sense of pride that I was able to take this deep tech solution, put it in the hands of regulators on the ground, and help pharmacies improve the quality of care that they were delivering.”

COVID spurs new product development, fast growth, and scaling challenges

When COVID hit in 2020, RxAll’s pharmacy customers needed a way to sell their products online. In response, RxAll quickly built an e-commerce platform to help pharmacies manage their inventory, sell their products, and organize deliveries.

a customer and a pharmacist, both wearing masks, speak at a counter
“The turning point for our business was really COVID — the fact that these pen-and-paper businesses had to become digitized,” Alonge says.

RxAll’s pharmacy customers began recommending the software to other pharmacists, which resulted in the company quickly scaling from hundreds to thousands of users.

Meeting surging demand as a startup is not without its challenges. For Alonge, one of the most difficult moments for the company was raising the capital required to deploy its software to so many pharmacies in such a short amount of time. “We were seeing very fast growth in terms of our demand, and we didn’t have enough funding to pay the staff members [needed],” reflects Alonge.

For a year, RxAll’s team worked around the clock to onboard and service customers, and the company’s strong revenue figures allowed RxAll to close $3.15 million in funding in 2021.

Mentorship and education fuels company’s expansion

Today, more than 5,000 pharmacists across Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda use RxAll’s platform. Alonge proudly cites that not only has the company grown quickly in recent years, but it is now profitable.

There are very few businesses in Africa, or otherwise in the startup phase, that get to this level of profitability at the frequency and speed at which we did. Adebayo Alonge, RxAll Founder

As RxAll continues to scale, Alonge emphasizes the importance of staying true to RxAll’s mission of improving access to medication and healthcare in Africa. He cites a range of new capabilities RxAll has added in recent years, such as building a network of over 100 doctors that offer telehealth care through the RxAll platform. In planning for new product offerings, Alonge appreciates the support he’s received from the Harvard Innovation Labs’ mentorship program:

“Our mentor has been helping us think through how to pitch about the new stage of our business and to explore ways in which we can begin to add on other elements…The conversations I’ve had with him have really opened my eyes to what we can build on top of what we currently have.”

Over the last eight years, RxAll has helped millions of people across Africa access trusted medication and healthcare services. The leadership skills he’s developing at Harvard, Alonge says, will help him position RxAll to impact millions more people in the years to come.