A Founder’s Story: Wella Health

A Nigerian physician entrepreneur shares his journey bringing an innovative malaria micro-insurance company through the Techstars Impact accelerator in Austin

by Ikpeme Neto

Wella Health founder and CEO Ikpeme Neto presents during Techstars Impact 2019 Demo Day in Austin

It was an amazing experience on the Techstars stage introducing to the world our work making healthcare more affordable for Africans. I am so grateful for the opportunity thanks for support from friends, family, and the community that made this possible. How I ended up here is a testament to the power of networks and working for the good of a larger whole. I didn’t know it, but I set the ball rolling some 3 years ago when I decided to build a community around health technology entrepreneurship in Nigeria.

It was 2016, I’d moved back to Nigeria in 2015 to build a health tech company. After struggling for a while trying to figure things out myself, I contacted a few people and set up Digital Health Nigeria. My goal was to create a support group and share knowledge among ourselves. The ever-optimistic Ayobami Olufadeji was a great support and jumped on board early. I also had great support from people like Lanre Adeloye, Dr. Charles Akhimien, Debo Odulana, Ayomide Joe, Wale Wellvis, and many more.

We started a WhatsApp group of some 7 or so people back then. Today that group has 170 people and has spawned many connections and relationships across many continents. We had several meetups and helped organize events.

Wella Health founder Ikpeme Neto during the opening dinner for the Health Meets Tech Nigeria infectious disease hackathon in Abuja in May 2018

One event we helped put together in 2017 was EpiAFRIC’s first Health Meets Tech challenge. I recall being asked how I wanted to leverage it for my own personal ambitions and responding with “a rising tide lifts all boats.” The event turned out excellently. Ike Anya, Ifeanyi Nsofor, Ugonna Ofonagoro, and the whole team were a dream to work with. I got to meet and hang out with so many cool people — the likes of Henry Mascot, Ezinne Anyanwu, the MDaaS Global crew and more, all deeply passionate about healthcare. So the next year in 2018 when EpiAFRIC organized an infectious disease hackathon alongside PandemicTech and Endura Ventures, I jumped at the chance to help organize that again. There I got to meet even more cool people like Andrew Nerlinger.

Later in the year, I came across the Techstars Impact program in Austin. I was delighted to hear MDaaS Global had gotten in. I made a mental note that this would be a good fit for us when the next round opens. I also learned that Andrew Nerlinger was a mentor at it.

PandemicTech director Andrew Nerlinger, Tech Ranch Austin CEO Kevin Koym, Wella Health founder Ikpeme Neto, and Austin Technology Incubator director of healthcare Lisa McDonald at Techstars Impact Demo Day in October 2019 in Austin

In 2019, just as applications for Techstars Impact opened, we got into the Google Launchpad accelerator and met another cool cat, Bola Lawal. I’d been putting off the application for some reason at the time. Bola encouraged me to apply and introduced me to Zoe Schlag, Managing Director of Techstars Impact.

Zoe said apply so I did. It was then all the tide I’d been helping to make rise, rose up in my favor. The connections and network I’d made over the last 3 years came together and vouched for my suitability to join the Techstars network with its #givefirst mantra.

We got accepted and had a tremendous experience. We are now on a trajectory to impact the lives of millions of Africans through better healthcare. This would never have begun if I didn’t truly believe that working together for the good of all always benefits everyone including oneself.

So today we’re Techstars alum and it all began with me looking out to #givefirst and selflessly build a community. If you’re ever in doubt on what to do in your life to progress, look around and help out others on their way and it will come back to you in ways you can’t imagine.

The Techstars Impact 2019 accelerator cohort at Demo Day in Austin in October 2019

About the Author: Ikpeme Neto is the founder and CEO of Wella Health, a Nigeria-based healthcare technology company whose first product provides microinsurance for malaria to thousands of Nigerians (and counting…). Dr. Neto is a physician entrepreneur who founded Digital Health Nigeria and who practices internal medicine in Ireland. He earned his medical degree from Trinity College Dublin.

PandemicTech (Austin, Texas, USA) is a virtual technology incubator confronting pandemic infectious disease threats