By Lincoln G. Peters
Six teams of aspiring health entrepreneurs comprising nine members have received financial awards and certificates after winning the USAID-funded BRIDGE-U: Applying Research for a Healthy Liberia project HEALR Creation Course Pitch Fest.
The certification and award program was held Tuesday, July 18, 2023, at the Royal Hotel in Sinkor, a suburb of Monrovia.
The course participants represent six ventures that aim to address various gaps within the health sector: Genesis Medicine & Research Center, Pad It Up, Health Line First Aid Delivery Service, Mertu Diagnostic Mobile Laboratory, SADERON Pharmaceutical, and LEO Nutrition.
Through USAID -funded BRIDGE -U: Liberia, the University of Liberia College of Health Sciences (ULCHS), in collaboration with the Consortia for Improving Medicine with Innovation and Technology (CIMIT) through HEALR: Health Entrepreneurship Advancement Leveraging Research, designed the Creation Course to support aspiring health entrepreneurs in developing their skills while accelerating the progress of their health ventures.
Mr. Leelah J. Clarke won the highest cash award of US$20,000.
Ms. Lila Kerr, Implementation Director, BRIDGE-U: Liberia, explained that after the first Innovation Seminar was hosted in 2022, over a hundred people applied for the Ideation program.
But she said fewer than 30 people were selected to participate in Ideation for three months and they learned business skills during the period.
At the end of the Ideation in December 2022, she said only six teams were selected to join the Creation phase.
Ms. Kerr indicated that they kicked off the Creation phase in January 2023 and reunited with the Consortia for Improving Medicine with Innovation and Technology [CIMIT] Team.
She said the teams participated in a world-class health entrepreneurship program.
“The instructors we’ve worked with have worked with the most talented people you can find around the world,” said Ms. Kerr.
Dr. Bernice Dahn, UL Vice President for Health Sciences, said because of the way Liberian health workers were educated, they mostly relied on government employment as their primary job, and operating a private health center as a secondary job.
She said they knew that if you went to school as a doctor, nurse, or a midwife, you are supposed to be working in a hospital.
But she noted that the world is changing, and people are thinking differently about how they can support the economy as health workers.
Under the Health Entrepreneurship program, she said it is interesting how people have been able to come up with ideas in nine months that are going to be scaled up to support the economy.
Dr. Plenseh Paye McClain, CTLI Deputy Director, Innovation, expressed delight to celebrate the first cohort of the Creation program with the closing ceremony, awards, and dinner.
She explained that the Health Innovation and Entrepreneurship activity is a part of the USAID- funded Bridge-U: “Applying Research for a Healthy Liberia” project at the University Of Liberia College Of Health Sciences.
She said last year, Bridge-U supported ULCHS to launch the Center for Teaching, Learning and Innovation.
This Center, she said, houses various programs that enrich academic activities at the college, to strengthen the health workforce pipeline and ultimately the health system.
“We are gathered here tonight to celebrate the latest milestone in the Health Entrepreneurship Advancement Leveraging Research program, known as HEALR,” said Dr. McClain.
She indicated that these programs range from faculty development and research projects to clinical simulation education and health innovation and entrepreneurship.
According to Dr. McClina, the primary objective of this activity is to instruct and mentor aspiring health entrepreneurs and help them launch new products and services that will improve the health of Liberians.
To achieve this objective, she said they introduced the HEALR program, which consists of three phases: three-month-long ideation, six-month-long creation, and yearlong implementation.
“We cannot emphasize enough how glad we are of the delegated participants, who were always present and eager to learn,
because of our phenomenal instructors, who also served as mentors,” Dr. McClain noted.
She also thanked the hardworking judges who spent the entire time listening to the participants’ pitches.
Additionally, Dr. McClain thanked the teams from the USAID Innovation, Technology, and Research Hub for supporting the initiative with both financial investment and technical support.
“We are so grateful that in addition to the BRIDGE-U award, the USAID team provided an additional $50,000 for the prizes that will be awarded tonight,” she continued.
“We consider ourselves lucky that we worked with phenomenal USAID colleagues not only in the US but also right here in Liberia.”
Responding, the highest prize winner Mr. Leelah J. Clarke, appreciated his mentors for pushing him far, saying beyond the class, they maintain a good relationship.
The Chief Executive Officer of Leo Nutrition and First-placed Prize Winner of the program said with the knowledge and funds provided, they are poised to compete with anyone on the market.
“Before starting this program, I had ideas, but [not] compared to [the] knowledge gained now. However, I want to appreciate Mr. Dennis for pushing me very hard. And today I want to thank everyone,” Clarke said.
He said he was super excited to be a part of the first cohort, noting that he appreciated all the mentors for the competitions they created throughout the process.
“I think our biggest takeaway from this program is that we all are going to compete,” said Mr. Clarke.
He said if any business in their competitive space has been having a free ride, it’s over now.
Mr. Clarke attributed the knowledge gained and winning of the first-placed prize to his commitment and dedication, especially the engagement of his mentors throughout the nine months.
“During the course, we had to meet Tuesday and Friday, but there were days that we had to work excluding our meeting days and even overtime.”
“I think the issue of the money is a big thing, but most importantly, we all are equipped with the knowledge to do better and expand,” he stated.