By Victor Adar
It is not easy to survive in business with little faith. This will, of course, be disputed but one Agnes Maina is proof that some groundbreaking ventures are not for the faint hearted.
She had worked in the pharmaceutical industry for about nine years, both in community and hospital pharmacy. After an illness that took a while to recover from, she decided to take a sabbatical while pondering her next move. When she finally recovered sufficiently to return to work, getting a job became a real challenge. Entry point was to set up a pharmacy, with a long-term plan to scale up to a complete medical clinic.
Ms Maina began her entrepreneurial journey in 2011 with three partners – the firm has a directorship of 4 ladies. However, it was until 2015 that the partners settled at Fortis Suites, ground floor, on Hospital Road, Upper Hill, a location that they all felt comfortable with to set up the business. What followed? They registered Twinkle Pharmacy Limited, a limited liability company whose mission is to provide what she terms “affordable and quality healthcare” for Kenyans of all walks of life.
“I took stock of my life, what I could use to create a sustainable lifestyle and my knowledge in the pharmaceutical industry was the answer I was looking for,” she said. “We are constantly seeking ways to drop the cost of healthcare. We look out for quality drugs at affordable costs from various suppliers. We have partnered with various companies in a bid to achieve this.”
The company bets on a model that reduces the turn-around time of customers since services for medical needs can be received at the same place.
Did you know?
Pharmacy and Poisons Board has in the past found expired drugs particularly in public hospitals and ordered their destruction. In June, a report by the Auditor-General Edward Ouko, found State-owned Kenya Medical Supplies with expired stock valued at Sh150 million as at the end of 2018 financial year. That scenario creates fear thus pushing up demand for services from private players. And the fact that KEMSA mainly supplies public entities, private players saw a gap that needed to be filled. When people are afraid that they may get expired drugs from public medical facilities, a huge number would turn to private providers. Clearly, this is an opportunity.
To the entrepreneurs, the partnership is symbiotic so much that they work synergistically with each other and are supportive to one another. Their priority is to grow the complete outfit of Twinkle Medical Services that incorporates the medical consultation and the laboratory and are constantly researching on how to leverage on technology in order to manage costs.
One of their key researchable questions is how to ensure that the supply chain is efficient, with an aim to reduce costs. Any inefficiencies in a supply chain, they say, result in increased costs to the end consumer. Moreover, the partners would like to create more partnerships with health management organizations to provide services to more clients. On reach, they hope to spread to other counties in the next couple of years as per the company’s growth plan, once they have tested their business model and ascertain that it works.
Twinkle Medical Services has four doctors on board, two general practitioners and two specialists, specialized in internal medicine and endocrinology – doctors who are able to competently deal with illnesses such as diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, high blood pressure, infectious diseases, kidney and heart ailments.
Knowing that cutthroat competition and illegal business are the major threats, the company strives to continually improve its services while ensuring that customer feedback is listened to and acted on. As for the don’ts, the number is to shun unethical practice.
“As a professional, doing good supersedes the profitability. Hence, one should continuously strive to ensure that the drugs are genuine thereby being efficacious. We are glad that the regulator of the pharmacy business is constantly and continuously doing swoops to weed out quacks, who not only bring in unfair competition, but also endanger the lives of unsuspecting Kenyans,” she says.
It was in May 2019 when Twinkle Pharmacy rolled out laboratory services that undertake hematology, serology, microbiology and immunology tests. Moreover, it turned to medical consultation services to ensure that clients are guaranteed satisfaction. The facility also offers woman and man check ups that are recommended annually to be able to pick any serious illnesses early, as well as advise on proper nutrition and other healthy habits. For the pharmacy services, the firm not only provides traditional over the counter services, but also deliver medications anywhere within Kenya and East Africa, serving customers in Kisumu, Mombasa, Eldoret and even Dar es Salaam.
Another milestone is the SME of the year award (organised by Bizna Kenya), where they walked away with some goodies. The company won two awards, first in the professional services category and runners up for the overall SME award of the year. As a team, the ladies have achieved such great milestones faster. Having only operated for 3 years, the win was indeed a stamp of customers’ approval. This is an indicator that the company is heading in the right direction in terms of doing business. On what the recent awards mean to their venture, she says: “Internally, the competition served as an audit of our processes and systems, to give us an external view to our business.”
Entrepreneurship is not easy, but very rewarding if one is willing to be resilient in the journey. There are many challenges in the world today, each of these presents an opportunity for a business to emerge that can solve that specific challenge. But how can one succeed in such a venture?
“Learn to tap into the best of people and achieve your goals. Further, there is no success without hard work and trust in God. Many times we are seen as the underdog as women, but when our potential is tapped and channeled to the right areas, we can do tremendous things,” Ms Maina says.