VENTURES AFRICA – Laser eye surgery may not sound like the type of thing that would be easy to establish in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, but thanks investment from venture capital firm InReturn Capital the Eagle Eye Laser Centre has established a 100 million shillings ($1.2 million) project that has so far operated on 200 eyes.
The Hurlingham Eye Care Services group (HECS) entered into a partnership with InReturn last year in order to open the centre, which claims to be the leading provider of eye care surgery and diagnostics in East Africa. It is now the first centre in the region to offer LASIK surgery, the most advanced type of laser surgery for vision correction. Other services include eye surgeries such as cataract and multifocal refractive surgery, as well as a broad variety of eye diagnostics.
The offering has proved popular in Kenya, though there was some initial reluctance to take advantage of the LASIK technology.
“Kenyans have initially been a bit reluctant, and had a come and see attitude,” said operations manager Corien Herweijer. “But now that we have treated over 200 eyes successfully with the LASIK procedure, people are starting to see it works and gives very good results. Many happy patients have been sending their friends, colleagues and relatives, now that they have seen for themselves that the procedures were performed successfully. We would see that a family usually has one ‘brave’ family member who’d go and have the procedure done first, and upon success the others would now follow.”
Though the centre is clearly a great option for richer Kenyans, Eagle Eye has also sought to take the treatment to those who would be unable to afford it.
“We try to cater for those that otherwise would have sought treatment outside of Kenya,” said Herweijer. “We feel that it is not necessary anymore for people to be travelling abroad, but wanted to bring this advanced technology to Kenya instead. For the common mwananchi, we do regular sensitization campaigns, we run eye camps in the slum areas, and we have secured some donations from Europe that can be used for the same purpose.”
Establishing the centre has not been without its challenges, however. “The whole centre is an investment worth about Ksh100 Million,” said Herweijer. “That is not easy to set up and establish, but we have been very fortunate to find many people and companies who have been willing to give us favourable terms in doing business. For example, we were able to negotiate favourable contracts with many of the machine suppliers, since they also understood the need for our services in this part of the world.”
One of these arrangements has been with InReturn, a venture capital firm active in East Africa with offices in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. It invests in SMEs and aims to generate financial returns for its investors as well as have a positive social impact in the region. Following investments in the construction, infrastructure and energy sectors, InReturn is now focusing the health care sector.
“There is a saying in my language that two are always better than one and the partnership with InReturn has just proven this to be true one more time,” said Dr. Kiumbura, CEO and co-founder of HECS. “It has been a time of improvement in the organisation, from personal growth to organisational transformation, and to a more efficient and focussed entity from the time we started working together. I have no doubt in my mind that together we will grow to unchartered heights in provision of quality affordable eye care in this region in the coming years.”
“We are excited to invest in this state of the art eye care institute in Kenya,” said Eelco Benink, Investment Manager at InReturn. “The doctors are amongst the best in their field and the technology available at the Eagle Eye Laser Centre is unparalleled in East Africa. Together with the optical shops it forms the only one stop shop for eye health care in greater East Africa. Our partnership will lead to further expansion of the HECS group, and it will contribute to the growth of quality medical industry in the region.”
Herweijer says she sees no limits in how the centre can expand its operations in the region.
“We would like to become the point of reference for any eye related problems and treatment in the wider region, that is East and Central Africa,” she said. “Since it is quite a heavy investment to set up such facilities, we think many other doctors should come and use these facilities too, so that eventually more and more people can benefit from the services offered. Our centre should become a superior alternative to travelling overseas for treatment, trying to save the patient a lot of time, money and inconvenience, while also building this sector in Kenya.”