Startup snapshot: Nigerian AI-driven platform helps reduce health insurance fraud

Nigeria-based Curacel is an AI-driven platform that fast tracks claim processing and detects fraudulent claims for health insurance companies. The company was recently selected for the Startupbootcamp AfriTech accelerator programme. CEO and founder Henry Mascot answers our questions.

1. Give us your elevator pitch.

We provide a web application to health insurance companies for collecting, processing and paying health claims. We help them reduce claims padding and claims vetting errors, flag suspicious claims, validate claims, and [cut down] other forms of health insurance-related fraudulent activities.

Claim intelligence and clinical audits within a number of national health insurance schemes in Africa reveal that 15 to 20% of healthcare spending is lost through fraud.

Curacel is positioned to reduce (eliminate) this widespread, growing problem that has cost billions of insurers’ dollars while depriving patients of the affordable, quality medical care they need.

2. How did you finance your startup?

We have an interesting fundraising story. For a greater part of our early years as a business, we bootstrapped from our savings. We did get an angel fund two years ago but largely we focused on reducing our risk portfolio as a startup, in order to position ourselves for larger investments. So, we rolled back on the investment.

The startup business in our home country is not without its many hurdles. So, running out of our savings was inevitable. As a team, we took up other side jobs and personal projects (largely on project management and web applications) to raise more funds for Curacel. Basically, we ran a part-time operation, dedicating 3-4 days a week for Curacel and the rest on other jobs. Weekends were almost non-existent.

This gave us the runway to get our business functional and in operation.

3. If you were given $1 million to invest in your company now, where would it go?

Our vision is to drive insurance inclusion [throughout the] continent, starting with our health claims switch for Nigeria and then sub-Saharan Africa.

Of course we’ll have a budget for the $1 million but our core focus would be on building a team to execute the Curacel vision, after which we will dedicate more hours and manpower to refining the product to provide more value for our clients.

Currently, we have some insurers in Nigeria as well as hundreds of hospitals on our platform. But our goal is market dominance. Hence, we would keep investing in building a robust structure and product to deliver world-class value for our clients.

4. What risks does your business face?

I think the biggest risk our business faces is losing focus. In Africa, execution is king.

We are solving a problem in a vertical where they are so many intersecting problems to tackle and each investor has priorities they think should be the path.

So I’m always working on a course correction, to ruthlessly stay on the path and just execute.

5. So far, what has proven to be the most successful form of marketing?

We are an enterprise software business. So far our best form of marketing has been referrals. Our current clients are so delighted by the value we create for them that they talk about us with their friends.

Our local market is a close-knit one, and almost everybody knows everybody.

We have a strong sales process as well, so in addition to these referrals, we knock on doors.

And we have seen that in as much as you provide value, you have to consistently show up. Especially as a startup, value is not enough. People want to know you and trust you before they give you business.

6. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.

I am very passionate about technology entrepreneurship. I love my work every single day. A moment I would love to share was several years ago, in the first venture I started with my cofounder back then, during my final year at university.

I was studying a course I knew I would never practice after school, so in final year I had to start figuring out how to go on this entrepreneurial path I wanted to take. My friend came up with this idea to help students in the university calculate and store their GPs (grade points). Back then we used to have this pamphlet where, if you were organised, you would write your GPs over the years there. But we thought it would be cooler to make a mobile application that would help students store this.

Back then I was an upcoming web developer. I had to learn how to build a mobile application and within a few weeks, I built an application that could help students … calculate, store and visualise their GPs through the years.

But the most exciting part was when we used it to enter for an MTN developer challenge. We had to do guerilla marketing to get people to install the app because the criteria for winning was not just a good product but also massive customer acquisition.

We ended up winning the education category of the MTN developer challenge that year, going home with over $3,500.

It felt as if it was the voice of God telling me, this is your path and [go] after that. I never looked back.

7. Tell us about your biggest mistake.

I think one of the biggest mistakes I made was raising money before I understood my business clearly enough and how I was going to return that money to the investors.

Those early days, after I took the money, was one of the most stressful times of my entrepreneurial journey.

But I guess this is one of those lessons you learn as a first-time founder. These days, before I take money, I’m quite clear on what it is for and how I expect to return it.