Fighting Counterfeit Medicine with Entrepreneurship
The WHO estimates that nearly 10% of medicines world-wide are counterfeit, with almost 50% of all counterfeit medicines found in developing nations. This problem disproportionately affects poor and rural patients. Access to essential medicine is a human right put forward by the WHO, and the Bangladeshi brother-founder team of Souvik and Soumik Aswad established their tech startup, Panacea, to ensure that everyone in Bangladesh has the power to confirm authenticity of their medicine.
CRDF Global first identified the Aswad brothers through their submission to attend the Global Innovation Through Science and Technology (GIST) Startup Boot Camp hosted in Bangladesh in May 2014. They were one of thirty teams selected from over one hundred Bangladeshi entrepreneurial applicants to attend the boot camp. Since that first entrepreneurial workshop with CRDF Global, the Aswad brothers have built out the Panacea service and received mentorship and seed grant funding to continuously improve their venture.
Panacea empowers people to confirm authenticity of medicines by partnering directly with pharmaceutical companies who then assign each individual package of medicine a unique identifier code. This allows consumers to verify their medicine through Panacea via SMS, in an app, on the Internet, and even by Facebook Messenger. Panacea is currently verifying two products – Maxpro and Rolac – both created by the pharmaceutical company Renata (formerly Pfizer Limited), the fourth largest pharmaceutical company in Bangladesh; one of those products is the third most purchased medicine in Bangladesh.
A Journey of Entrepreneurial Growth
Soumik and Souvik have participated in CRDF Global programs since May 2014 at a CRDF Global-organized GIST Startup Boot Camp held in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Most recently, this May during CRDF Global’s REC@NNECT Hackathon, the team earned first place and were awarded $1,500 for their company.
When asked about their experience with CRDF Global’s entrepreneurship programs, Souvik Aswad has said:
“Every CRDF Global event has marked a new chapter in our company’s history. From signing our first deal to making our first revenue - CRDF Global has been an excellent boost for us, both in terms of mentorship, education and funds. We built our first MVP with the funds from the REC@NNECT Challenge Final Event in Nepal and the GIST Startup Boot Camp in Dhaka in 2014. From there, we went on to work with the fourth largest pharmaceutical company in the country and achieved 10,000 monthly verifications. The most recent award from the REC@NNECT Hackathon in Bangalore this May 2016 is allowing us to improve on our craft and make our service easier and more reliable for people to use.”
The Panacea team has used their most recent seed grant to purchase a proprietary SMS short code, which is used to automatically send responses to Panacea’s users once they verify the medicine via SMS. This short code has improved service and affordability for Panacea’s user base by providing more reliable connectivity and lowering the cost per verification, as Panacea had been looking to overcome the connectivity problems with their previous SMS service provider. Souvik also shares that their team has improved their business approach multiple times thanks to input received from CRDF mentors:
“They have taught us to ask the right questions - which is essential for figuring out problems and solving them fundamentally. One great example was the advice to survey pharmacies before we launched - it gave us great insights on how to present to consumers the idea of verifying a drug. One of our mentors introduced us to our first client! He even went with us to business meetings to see our idea through. Talk about great commitment to mentees!”
The brother’s estimate that nearly two-million medicines have been verified since founding their startup, with more than 30,000 verifications alone in 2016, proving the need for accurate and accessible methods of verifying the validity of medicines in developing world. As Panacea attracts attention from angel investors and venture capital firms, they are laying the groundwork for further improving the ease with which their users can verify their medicine. Plans include:
- Implementing a more user friendly data base that better integrates unstructured supplementary service data.
- Entering into talks with pharmaceutical companies to expand their list of verifiable medicines.
- Diversifying their startup with entry into the fast moving consumer goods market.
Tip of CRDF Global’s Entrepreneurial Iceberg
CRDF Global has implemented technology entrepreneurship programs for more than 17 years in emerging markets and developing countries around the world, contributing to a culture of entrepreneurship in which thousands of entrepreneurs like Souvik and Soumik Aswad participate. To date, CRDF Global’s entrepreneurship programming accomplished the following:
- Trained in-country partners and more than 3,000 scientists, students, faculty, and technology entrepreneurs in innovation acceleration and business development;
- Organized more than 100 networking events to facilitate networking and interactions between emerging technology entrepreneurs and potential investors;
- Organized 12 entrepreneurship boot camps in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Eurasia, and South and Southeast Asia;
- Implemented several virtual entrepreneurship panels, engaging 6,000 participants in 25 countries;
- Held 24 webinars and online entrepreneurship and technology management trainings, 4 startup competitions, and 65 technology commercialization competitions;
- Awarded $12.1 million in seed funding;
- Created more than 120 business partnerships;
- Secured over $1 million dedicated in cost-sharing contributions from partner organizations; and
- Established 10 technology transfer offices in Russia, Georgia, and Kazakhstan.
CRDF Global’s entrepreneurship programs accelerate the growth of innovative early stage companies, assist university-based teams in identifying and pursuing effective commercialization pathways, and build innovation infrastructures. As 2017 approaches, we look forward for new and exciting ways to extend our work in entrepreneurship and innovation across CRDF Global and the world.
The U. S. Department of State’s Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) initiative started in 2011 to empower young entrepreneurs through networking, skills building, mentoring, and access to financing to develop startup solutions that address economic and development challenges. CRDF Global implemented the program from its launch in 2011 to 2014.
REC@NNECT is organized by CRDF Global and funded by the U.S. Department of state. REC@NNECT identifies the next generation of technology entrepreneurs in South and Central Asia and supports them through entrepreneurship skill development, networking, market exposure, and capital procurement.