For the latest edition of our recently launched feature, In Conversation With, we are joined by Siphokazi Feke, founder and CEO of Brainwave Medical Group, a healthcare services company focused on driving access to quality healthcare by leveraging technology and ensuring that the best technologies are in the hands of users to ensure the best health outcomes.
APR: Welcome Siphokazi, and thanks for chatting to us. Please tell us a bit about yourself. For those who don’t know you, who is Siphokazi Feke?
SF: I am an Entrepreneur with interests in health and tech. I’m passionate about Africa and its prospects and thus continually look for opportunities to form part of the narrative that contributes to Africans finding solutions to African problems, be it in health or tech. My primary background in Clinical Technology landed me in this space as my life journey evolved. I’m the second born of four children to my loving and supportive parents. I’m also a doting mother to one son who makes everything worthwhile.
APR: Tell us about Brainwave Medical Group? How did the idea come about?
SF: My maternal side of the family has always been entrepreneurial and thus the inspiration for charting my own path in life, I credit them. I had been on the clinical side of healthcare for five years and spent eight years on the business side which allowed one the opportunity to identify areas for personal growth that could not be found in a corporate office and thus in 2009, I left my day job to start my own company.
APR: You made an interesting decision to start the business in another country. Tell us about the thinking that informed this.
SF: We actually started as medical travel facilitation agency in the medical tourism space assisting organizations across the continent that were seeking medical/surgical interventions for their employees. This saw us serving on the steering committee to draft South Africa’s Medical Tourism strategy that was commissioned jointly by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Tourism to leverage the 2010 World Cup exposure South Africa had received.
In servicing different clients in DRC, Malawi, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana one was able to do market analysis of the countries and juxtaposed that to a market entry strategy for South Africa for a secondary service that would be kidney disease management and dialysis clinics. South Africa had high barriers to entry in this sector at the time, as most of the private hospital groups had either partnered with a multinational or a company that had been in existence for 20 plus years, something that would not have been possible for us given the political history of our country. We had a choice between DRC and Ghana and we went with Ghana as our launching pad.
APR: It could not have been an easy decision to uproot yourself from South Africa and to have to establish a new life in another country, especially with your son being 18 months old at the time. What motivated such a bold move?
SF: The initial approach was not for me to based in Ghana as I was a new mom. So we raised the capital to deploy expatriates that had the same clinical skills to support the operation. However, a series of macroeconomic factors happened that formed a perfect storm that hit us on the first year of launch. First, the Ghana cedi devalued from 1.8 to the USD to 4.5, eroding a big chunk of our capital. Then, the West African gas pipeline that supplies gas to Ghana for power burst plunging the country into extended power outages, forcing us to pour whatever revenue was coming in to sustaining alternative power and water supplies which are key for dialysis clinic. The country also issued a legislation to stop the use of the USD to pay for services in a bid to save the currency’s free fall that meant we then had to import euros and charge in Ghanaian cedis.
Then we were left with a business that was too expensive to run at the level we wanted to, even though we had patients to treat. So, we had to make a call to either shut it down or pivot. That is when I had to wear my clinical hat with a baby on my back, released expatriates back to South Africa and then emigrated to Ghana myself to try to steer the ship out of the rough waters
APR: You encountered quite some criticism during your early days in Ghana, tell us a little about the experience.
SF: Kidney dialysis was not a novel concept in Ghana as the public teaching hospital had the service but to launch the service for the first time in the private healthcare sector as the first entrant came with some push back from the public sector colleagues up until there were new Ghanaian entities that were following suite to grow the presence of private providers in the space
APR: You currently have quite a presence in Ghana, tell us about your reach at the moment.
SF: Since 2014, we have been a service provider to Ghana’s largest private hospital network, The Trust Hospital. They have three hospitals and eight clinics with an average of 18,000 feet a month.
APR: As you know from the African proverb that says if you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk together, success is usually achieved alongside great partnerships. Tell us about the partnerships that has helped shape your story to date.
SF: They have been too many to mention one by one. I’d need to write a book. It has been a community of partnerships and helpers. To give context, I can compare my journey to arriving at an 18-hole golf game with just the golf balls and no clubs intending to play and win the game. There’s been those who gave me the driver to tee off, and when the ball landed on the rough, some trusted me with their 7-iron to get it back into the fairway where I hit it into a water hazard and I had no ball to continue the game, some gave me another ball so I can finish the hole. I hit in to the green where some trusted me with their putter and helped me read the line which allowed me to putt into the hole. Some gave me tees that would sit my ball nicely and some gave me gloves when my hands got sore. So, you see why it’s difficult to name them one by one as each has a different role and relevance at different times of the game and they were all important.
APR: As a result of your presence in Ghana, several other similar players have emerged since. How have Brainwave differentiated itself to stay ahead of the curve in an increasingly competitive market?
SF: We believe in a holistic approach to care for our patients, and that kidney disease management is more than plugging a patient on the machine three times a week and sending them home. We thus leverage our multinational footprint and our global network of experts to ensure that the quality of our outcomes is on par with the global best practice in kidney care.
APR: Since establishing a presence in Ghana, you have developed a footprint in South Africa. How did this come about?
SF: Yes, we made our entry into the South African market with the launch of our state-of-the-art facility in Eden Gardens Private Hospital in Pietermaritzburg as part of a national roll out strategy. Eden Gardens Private hospital is a 180-bed acute hospital, part of the RH Bophelo group of hospitals - a R4bn health fund listed at JSE.
APR: You also have exciting things coming up soon. Tell us about what you have in-store in the near future.
SF: All I can say is watch this space, I’m a big believer in having our work speak for itself when the time comes.
APR: What are some of the achievements you are most proud of?
SF: Being a mom and being able to contribute towards the betterment of the African healthcare landscape.
APR: Thanks for chatting to us Siphokazi, and for sharing your remarkable story. No doubt even greater things lie ahead for you and Brainwave.
About BrainWave Medical Group
Established in 2010 Brainwave Medical Group is a pan-African healthcare company focused in the services sector of healthcare. The mission is to drive access to quality healthcare for all Africans. With current presence in Southern and West Africa, the company offers private dialysis clinics that render care to the growing kidney disease burden in the continent; medical tourism/ medical evacuation facilitation, leveraging the company footprint in Ghana and South Africa to assist patients seeking care outside the country of their origin as well as e-health services through customer focused digital platforms with a vision to be a significant contributor in strengthening Africa’s healthcare systems.