Since the start of the global pandemic, there’s been a renewed awakening on the impact nutrition has on our overall well being.
From the continent to the diaspora, millions of lives are impacted by malnutrition — the deficiency, excess, or imbalance in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients.
On the continent, diet is cultural; people typically eat what they produce locally. Undernutrition is often a result of high dependency on locally produced food and/or limited dietary diversity. In the Caribbean, US, and UK, excess nutrients have led to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Fortunately, the nutrition industry is experiencing its own technological revolution. New products, leveraging machine learning, and data analytics, are equipping nutritionists with the tools to provide data-driven recommendations.
Founded in 2019, Simpa is your intelligent personal health advocate. By giving real-time suggestions based on your nutrition, observations, health records, and defined goals, Simpa supports users in making informed decisions throughout their unique health journey.
I spoke with Michael A McNair, co-founder of Simpa, about what led him to Africa, some of the challenges he and his co-founder (Soren Solari) faced, and his tips to other entrepreneurs considering tapping into Africa’s tech ecosystem.
What is Simpa, and what value does it provide to the marketplace?
Powered by machine learning. Simpa is the future of personalized health and wellness.
From a technical standpoint, we collect, analyze, detect patterns, and give suggestions based on your nutrition, observations, health records, and blood work.
In October of 2019, my mom, who was a dietitian for 38 years, passed away from breast cancer, and that’s where Simpa started. Over a two week period I did my entire family’s food profile.
Simpa gives users power over their wellness and health. It allows you to take a personalized look at your nutrition and empowers you to get results.
By using Simpa, nutritionists can alleviate 90% of their tasks in real-time. Currently, one of the big issues nutritionists face is data collection and recommendations. Machine learning allows us to collect and analyze everything that impacts a person’s health, including allergies, sensitivity, etc. to detect patterns.
A few benefits/features include:
- We can grab all the nutrients, minerals, total saturated fat, etc. off of food in real-time.
- Give suggestions based on humans baseline blood reading.
- We collect data on the user’s daily activities, symptom tracking, allergy sensitivity, how much they sleep, how much they move. People don’t understand that the time you eat or take certain pills all matter.
- All of this can be done via SMS.
How did Simpa lead you to Africa’s Tech ecosystem? And why Africa?
I’ve always been very much interested and driven towards the continent. Simpa is beyond just work. It’s a calling.
As African-Americans, we struggle with identity. Often asking ourselves, Who am I, and where am I from?
It is a privilege to know who you are. There is power in knowing that you’re from Sierra Leone. I have to find out.
I’ve been getting, “you look like you’re from Ghana” for some time now, but I’m on a quest to know. Just being American isn’t enough. For my family, we will know exactly where we are from down to the tribe.
Moreover, what really brought us to Africa was my friend from Nairobi.
I got invited to an Africa Tech Summit in New York City and had the opportunity to talk about Simpa. I ended up connecting with a young woman who was flying back to Nairobi. We stayed in touch, and I ended up doing her profile. After, she said, “you have to meet my dietician.”
She introduced us to one of the top nutrition consultants in Kenya, and now he’s a Simpa brand ambassador. He describes the platform as a “game-changer,” already at capacity with clients, with Simpa he can have more clients and add value to his existing ones.
How did you go about identifying talent in Africa?
Our network helped us identify talent.
I’m a part of a group called Engineer Africa, and the founder Kevin has been a great help. They serve as a bridge, connecting the community of professionals in Engineer Africa with people on ground.
Also, the nutritionist we connected with was a great resource. And the big tech hubs were as well. I would say when it comes to identifying talent; it’s about leveraging partnerships with nonprofits, universities, and connecting with the tech hubs.
What were some of the challenges? Did you have any assumptions about working with someone on the continent?
Since we’re not physically on the continent, one of the biggest challenges was identifying the key players and partners. We had to make sure that we were bringing people on the team that we trust, and that they went through a vetting process, just as thoroughly as we’d vet someone in America.
Part of my DNA is to trust people. Yes, I’ve been burned. I’ve won, and I’ve lost like anybody else, but my mom taught me to love and trust. So far, it’s been a great relationship between our partners on ground and us.
Also, as entrepreneurs, at times, we feel like we know everything. And as African-American entrepreneurs, we can have a lot of emotions that push us sometimes over the edge. You don’t want to give people the idea that “Oh, he thinks he’s better than us because he’s American.” It’s a mutually beneficial relationship; you’re not their savior.
It’s about having the ability to take a step back and say, “Hey, I do not know this, and someone on the ground will have to teach me.” That’s a difficult statement for certain people to say. But if you’re vulnerable people’s walls will come down.
Bonus: We all have our assumptions, but when you make assumptions and turn them into hypotheses and those hypotheses into facts. Remember that your “facts” and assumptions are only validated when you speak to someone on the continent.
Tips to other entrepreneurs considering tapping into Africa’s tech ecosystem?
I have five tips for entrepreneurs:
- Belief: You have to believe in whatever product you’re building and have confidence that it’s sustainable on the continent.
- Research Part 1: Whatever product or tool you’re building, you need to research. Not in America, but on the continent and within the specific country that you want to serve
- Part 2: Identify the key players on the continent that can help you. If you’re having trouble, leverage your network in the US to get connected on ground.
- Persistence & Patience: Be persistent in following-up, but balance it with some patience. As entrepreneurs, we tend to rush, but realize that there’s a step by step process that we all have to go through. And I’m a believer in the process because it’s where things will ultimately start to unravel.
When you hear the phrase “Built In Africa”, what does that mean to you?
When I hear the phrase, I think of ownership. Despite all they’ve taken from us, from our names to our resources to our identity, we’ve found a way to reclaim ownership. So Built In Africa embraces that sentiment, and it means owned by us, built here.
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