Since 2021, J&J Impact Ventures (JJIV), an impact investment fund within the Johnson & Johnson Foundation, has worked closely with Villgro Africa to strengthen the ecosystem of equitable health innovation in Africa. This partnership began with a focus on funding innovations that equipped frontline health workers. Last year, we turned our attention to artificial intelligence (AI)—a technology with enormous potential to transform healthcare in Africa.
JJIV joined a consortium of other funders supporting Villgro Africa to accelerate and strengthen the work of talented African entrepreneurs developing AI innovations for healthcare. More than 200 companies from more than 20 African countries competed in the fall of 2022 for a spot in the incubator program: “African AI-Enabled Healthcare Solutions: Building Responsible AI for Global Health.” Ultimately, 10 were selected, embarking on a six-month journey through late 2023 in which they received funding, focused training, resources and technical support. JJIV specifically funded three of the 10 companies.
We asked the founders of those companies how the experience shaped their approach to developing responsible AI healthcare solutions, as well as their readiness for investment and the next stage of company growth:
Neural Labs Africa enhances medical images for radiologists and hospitals in real time through deep learning and computer vision technology, empowering doctors to make real-time, accurate diagnoses of diseases such as pneumonia, TB and lung cancer.
Tom Kinyanjui Njoroge, CEO and Co-Founder of Neural Labs Africa: "Villgro Africa provided us with crucial insights and mentorship for developing AI technologies that are not only efficient but ethically aligned with healthcare needs. The accelerator enabled us to advance our deep learning and computer vision technologies, ensuring our medical image screening tools are both innovative and compliant with healthcare standards. Their focus on sustainability and impact also helped us ensure that our AI solutions are accessible and beneficial, especially in under-resourced communities. This partnership also helped us refine our business model, develop robust financial strategies and enhance skills pitching our value and vision to potential investors. Their guidance on regulatory compliance and market dynamics further boosted our preparedness to meet investor requirements and understand our market deeply."
Rology offers an advanced AI-assisted teleradiology platform that supports diagnostic imaging facilities, especially in remote and rural regions where there is an acute shortage of trained radiologists.
Amr Abodraiaa, CEO and Founder of Rology: "This collaboration has significantly strengthened our commitment to responsible AI, aligning our technological advancements with the ethical standards and cultural needs of unserved, under-resourced and remote communities of Africa. The AI4H program has been a cornerstone in our journey, offering investment, mentorship, support and crucial networking opportunities for innovation and growth. It has reinforced our approach to AI-driven solutions, ensuring our AI algorithms are ethically aligned and responsive to the unique needs of the regions we serve. This partnership not only boosted the commercial viability of our products but also positioned us for sustainable growth and investment readiness."
The Pathology Network connects doctors, hospitals and the patients they serve to a global network of pathologists by leveraging technology that can support health workers with ordering, processing and reporting on pathology tests.
Dr. Joshua Kibera, CEO and Founder of The Pathology Network: "One of our goals at The Pathology Network is to increase access to localized pathology data for doctors, researchers and medical students. Currently, much of the data being used to train medical AI tools is not necessarily from Africa and if this continues, AI models will not be effectively factoring in Africa-specific data. We are creating data platforms where we can make our anonymized data available to other players who are in the ecosystem who have AI models to train, but don't have access to the data that we have. It's the right thing to do for the country and for the continent. Working with Villgro and the AI4H program in particular has pushed us forward in this goal. We have been working with Villgro Africa for many years, so they have assisted us at various stages in our journey. The funding we received from the AI4H program extended our runway and helped us build out this tech, which will include aspects of AI. This program is opening our eyes to the many opportunities that AI opens up for us and how it can contribute to the growth of our business."
We were excited to support this initiative with Villgro Africa and look forward to seeing how these entrepreneurs continue building their companies to improve healthcare in many different communities in Africa.