Open-IT is a Burundi-based company that develops and sells health information management software to medical clinics and hospitals, and offers technical support and training for these systems. The medical software aims to replace the need for paper documentation for patient administration and medical records management that can be misplaced and cause delays for medical services and operations. In order to capture the markets in the East African region, a joint-venture was established with a Belgian company already operating in Rwanda. Open-IT also has ambitions to create a centre of medical expertise for Central Africa.
How we made it in Africa asks Thierry Ntako, CEO of Open-IT, about the process of financing the company, his advice to other entrepreneurs, and the pros and cons of opening a business in Burundi.
What was the inspiration for starting Open-IT?
Open-IT came from my meeting with Dr Frank Verbeke, the manager of a Belgian company, Medical Exchange Solutions (MXS). MXS was providing medical IT solutions in hospitals in Rwanda and he wanted to expand their activity in Burundi because he saw that there was a potential market and big opportunities. As an ICT entrepreneur, I was immediately interested by the project. I though about how many times medical records are lost at the hospitals or some cases when a patient in medical emergency is obliged to wait a long time because of the difficulty to find his medical file between thousands of others. Many health institution managers also struggle with administrative and financial management and are unable to produce reliable medical information. An ICT system appears as the best solution.
Then Frank and I decided to create Open-IT, which is a joint-venture between MXS and my local IT company, BUSTEC. It was officially launched in January 2011.
How did you finance your business and what was the process like?
The business has been financed at 60% by a grant [from the] Dutch EVD-PSI programme and 40% by the shareholders (20% by MXS, 20% by BUSTEC). The process of submitting in this programme took us more than one year and was pretty difficult. Actually, our first application was not accepted but we succeeded the second time.
We have also been able to get support from the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). MIGA has providing US$700,000 of insurance to MXS covering its shareholder loan to Open-IT. Its coverage is for a period of up to 10 years against the risks of transfer restriction, expropriation, and war and civil disturbance.
Who is your competition and what is your competitive advantage?
Our principal competitor is the American company OpenMRS but there are some other Indian companies. Our competitive advantage is that our products are customised to the local market, multilingual (not only in English), more complete as an integrated solution (not specific to HIV and infectious disease) and more affordable, with a proven ROI. We also can provide local or regional support.
What are some of the challenges to doing business in Burundi?
The challenges are the rate exchange fluctuations, the unstable power supply, the bad internet connection, the expensive and difficult import/export regulations, and long tender procedures.
Name some of the business opportunities that exist in the Burundi.
The opportunities are the integration of Burundi in the East African Community, the optic fibre installation which will increase the internet quality, the availability of qualified human resources and the efforts of Burundian government to improve the business environment. Indeed, Burundi was classified in the top 10 reformers according to World Bank’s Doing Business 2012 report.
Open-IT has extended its services to hospitals in Rwanda. Are there other African countries that you are considering expanding your medical software services to?
Actually, our partner MXS already worked in Rwanda before Open-IT was born. Last year we created Open-IT Rwanda to continue MXS Central Africa’s work and to seize new opportunities. We are also considering expanding to the DRC, Mali and Ivory Coast where we have interesting contacts.
If you could offer a first-time entrepreneur only one piece of advice, what would it be?
My advice would be to invest enough time to develop their business plan before starting [their business].