'I want to help transform township and rural healthcare' - Boitumelo Ntsoane
The entrepreneur of the week turned her love for people into a social enterprise
Picture by Fairlady
This article forms part of the Women's Month 2015 series in which SME South Africa, throughout the month of August, will shine the spotlight on female business leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs.
Name of company: Afrilink HealthCare
Years in existence: 7 years
Position: Founder and owner
Location: Pretoria West
Can you tell us a little bit about your company and what you do.
Afrilink Healthcare started when I opened a small medical centre in a residential area housing a doctor, dentist, optometrist and a pharmacy. After two years I re-invested all my profits to purchase a fully furnished mobile clinic and also incorporated an in-house clinic managed by a retired nurse.
The services in the clinic include comprehensive wellness screening (blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, blood pressure), family planning, HIV testing.
I recruited a team of retired nurses with different areas of specialities and partnered with the district of Tshwane Department of Health to do school health campaigns, which is one element in the National Health Insurance Implementation. We have done campaigns in 386 schools in Tshwane.
We are a collection site for chronic packs for public sector patients assisting them in their drive to decongest hospitals. We are able to offer our services off-site with our Mobile Clinic and do awareness campaigns in partnership with organizations like South African Tuberculosis Association(SANTA).We are setting up health centres in mining communities where health education is much needed.
"Keep your eyes on the vision"
We service Road Accident Fund patients and the nurses are able to do home visits. Afrilink Healthcare is in the process of opening a pharmaceutical wholesaler to supply medical consumables to other service providers
Can you tell us a little bit about your background –personal, educational and professional.
I am a typical township girl born from a teenage mother who had a vision and named me Lovely Boitumelo amidst her circumstances. I was a shy child, a bookworm because my mom told me I would work in a fish and chips shops if I didn’t work hard and I got it somehow. I studied hard, painfully so, and I got a scholarship to study towards a pharmacy degree. I hated the financial limitations I had which limited my choices when I grew up.
Being employed though, was very restrictive and I felt trapped that I was fulfilling somebody else’s vision. When I became a mother the lack of flexibility was also a challenge, and I wanted to own my time.
What were some of the obstacles you faced starting out, and how did you overcome them?
Very challenging ones indeed. Lack of financial capital, medicine price legislations, medical aids colluding with service providers of choice , massive exodus of people leaving community pharmacies, not by choice, but because of new medical aid rules imposed on them. Personal service was the only thing that sustained me. I loved my people and I wanted the best for them
After my community service I was enlightened and blown away by how much our services are needed. Speaking to my people in the language they understand and ensuring they have adequate supply to sustain them, and educating them about their condition was a critical sore point at that point. We were faced with many challenges, stock shortages, manpower shortages but we strived to do our best
How many people does your company employ?
Six full time, but we can secure up to 20 nurses per wellness event if required.
What is your overall vision for your business?
To transform both township and rural healthcare.
"I rely a lot on my intuitions as well, which is a guiding voice"
What do you think it takes to establish and run a successful business in South Africa?
Knowledge, wisdom and understanding of the industry you are involved in. Being a step ahead of what is currently in place, and doing it better.
How did you finance your business, how difficult or easy was the process?
Extremely difficult - with the legalisation of medical product pricing meant that financial institutions saw this as unsustainable and high risk. Any credit card I had was utilised, and my uncle borrowed me R100 000 from his retirement fund. It was tough, my shelves were empty and I felt defeated by the system but yet I had so much hope about the potential of the industry.
When did you know that you were an entrepreneur?
Two years into the business when no challenge shook me to the core, and I knew I could work it out somehow and had no fear at all.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I am a dynamic leader as I am able to inspire, motivate and lead people, young and old. But I think this is work in progress as you have to learn to adapt and change as you grow and get more experienced. I rely a lot on my intuitions as well, which is a guiding voice.
What three pieces of advice would you offer young entrepreneurs starting out today?
• Keep your eyes on the vision.
• Work on yourself.
• Develop those around you.
What do you wish you had known starting out?
Nothing. Had I known too much, fear would have overtaken me
And finally, do you believe in luck, hard work or both?
I believe in hard work. I have proven that it pays and that it empowers you in the process.
- Boitumelo Ntsoane is the winner of the inaugural Fairlady Women of the Future 2015 Awards.