fter working as a clinician for eight years, Alexander Quaisie was shocked by the number of young people with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) he encountered in his practice. He founded Verifie Health to provide education and stigma-free sexual-health testing with the aim of changing the narrative around sexual health both in Ghana and across Africa.
How did your interest in working in clinics get you to where you are now?
I’ve always been very passionate about health in general. Medical practice wasn’t necessarily my dream job, but I knew that I wanted to contribute to healthcare in some way. I really wanted to help young people understand that an STI is something they can overcome or prevent by themselves. In Africa, we already have so many tropical diseases. Sexually transmitted infections are something preventable and something that we shouldn’t have to worry about. I realized there was inadequate education regarding sexual health and a lack of accessibility for young people to get the preventative help or treatments they needed.
How did you turn your entrepreneurial passion into an idea?
The spark for me was a friend. One night he met a woman, they went home and about a week later he called me and told me he had an STI. And I asked him; “How come this happened? You know everything. You know you have to use condoms, especially if you don’t know her well.” He said that they used condoms, that he had a pack of three and they used them all. When the condoms were done and the urge hit them, they decided in the heat of the moment to go without one. So I thought to myself, how can he and other young people understand the implications of risky sexual practices? These were some of the things I was thinking about when creating Verifie. Sexually active young people need somewhere to go for information on sexual health, whether to get treated or to prevent them from getting infected in the first place.
What were some of your early challenges?
I had this idea when I was living in a remote area. I wanted to move into the city so I could easily access services to take action on the idea. One challenge was this distance, and the other was that this was new and we didn’t have any form of endorsement. We wrote letters to UNAIDS, the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service to get support or an endorsement. But we weren’t getting any responses. One day, I saw an advert for an interview with the then UNAIDS country director, Haile Girmay. I knew a friend who worked at the TV station, so I called and pushed him to let us approach the country director after the interview. My partner and I literally sped through traffic to the TV studio to ambush him after the interview. He obliged, and quite gladly, too. He was very friendly and accommodating. We were able to have a fruitful discussion and we got him to commit on the spot. He set up several meetings for us over the next few months. Unfortunately, he left Ghana, but the relationship was so strong that he gave us a very good recommendation to the next country director. UNAIDS was the very first organization to support us, and they continue to support us today.
What was your worst mistake and what was your best decision?
Admittedly, I’ve made many mistakes but perhaps the one that stands out for me is not surrounding myself with people who had a common goal early enough. Although the majority of my team were instrumental in our activities and I cherish their participation, a few also had ulterior motives, thus we weren’t on the same trajectory. It stalled a lot of decisions we made and didn’t allow us to progress as much as we wanted to. For me, the best decision I made was letting them go. I recognized this as one of the major hurdles I had to overcome.
Addressing the problem gives you a sense of fulfillment that pushes you on to do more, and in the end it’ll provide that financial gain you were looking for.
Speaking of hurdles, what were the challenges to make this not only an impactful business, but a profitable one?
I went into business with my heart and not necessarily a lot of understanding of how entrepreneurship works. My family is largely middle class and we don’t really have any business going. My mom had a school but we didn’t really see it as a business – it was seen mainly as a way of helping the underprivileged in the community. So I wouldn’t say I had a knack for business, at least until I got some further insight.
After a year, I saw so many things I could have done differently, and I acknowledged that I needed guidance in this relatively new space. I got into an incubator, and that helped me develop a business model to have a sustainable business. I initially bootstrapped, mainly with loans from family and friends and my own income. This was used to register the company, set up the website and start production of the app.
Can you tell me about the Accra ecosystem? How would you like to see it develop?
Accra in general is accommodating when it comes to business. It’s the business hub in Ghana and it brings together a lot of people from different backgrounds. Now that it has a lot of startup incubators, it’s going to become a very good environment for business. I think the political climate, in terms of maneuvering your way through permits and other things that are required for business, is quite cumbersome but
What’s your team philosophy, and what do your team members need to have?
Our team is made up of young and determined team players who generally have a positive attitude. They are also like-minded and work for the collective good of the company. We work with over a hundred volunteers. We don’t discriminate when it comes to race or religion and we accept volunteers from all sorts of different backgrounds. We work with a lot of medical professionals and students but also with people from tech and business. Our volunteers become our ambassadors, going out into their communities to extend our message of ensuring good sexual health.
How do you keep your team culture alive and thriving?
We have this corporate social-responsibility program. We go at least three times per year and do an outing called Let’s Have a Quickie. We screen people for sexually transmitted diseases for free. We see this as contributing to our community as well as establishing our brand. We do this with the core team and volunteers, going to offices, schools and outdoor events. There’s lots of food and music because we want to create a fun environment where it’s easy for people to walk in, get tested and feel good about it. That’s one of the things we started that brings a lot of unity within our team. It’s something that our team members always look forward to.
When we’re not able to meet, we communicate through a WhatsApp group and ask people to contribute to our social media pages. We’ve seen a lot of creative ideas coming from this.
What’s your experience been as an entrepreneur who deals with sexual health?
It’s been a very rewarding journey for me, looking at the social impact. For example, since we started Verifie, we’ve had four people test positive for HIV, who we’ve been able to help access appropriate healthcare, and they are now very healthy. That’s very rewarding. We’ve also been able to help a number of people with hepatitis B get access to the right healthcare. Getting the opportunity to help people take charge and feel good about their sexual health and make sure they never test positive for
an STI, making sure they and their partners are safe, is a blessing on its own.
As a founder and community leader, what advice would you give to people who want to start a business, especially an impact business?
Don’t go in just for the money. I know it’s a bit cliché but it’s also very true. Of course we all want money, but that shouldn’t be the primary objective. I think your major focus should be solving a problem. We have so many challenges to address, especially in our part of the world. Addressing the problem gives you a sense of fulfillment that pushes you on to do more, and in the end it’ll provide that financial gain you were looking for. Be as open as possible and do your best to positively affect your community.
What are your biggest challenges ahead, and what do you hope to achieve in the future?
We’re looking at scaling up across Accra and ten other regions. We have a challenge with accessing the level of funding to make this possible, but we’re taking it in stride and doing what we can. We’re having conversations with other companies to aid our expansion. We are also looking to fundraise to be able to expand beyond Ghana to other African countries that need this service. We want to provide a solution that covers all of your sexual health challenges and needs. We want the name Verifie
to be synonymous with sexual health throughout Africa and beyond.
What are your top work essentials?
My laptop, phone and internet.
At what age did you found your company?
What’s your most used app?
Instagram, Twitter and Canva.
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given?
Mistakes are part of the process, but make sure you learn from them.
What’s your greatest skill?
Bringing people together.