Nneile Nkholise’s company uses technology to enhance patients’ lives

Lesotho-born and Thaba ’Nchu-raised Nkholise kick-started her career in 2011 as a mechanical engineer at the Free State’s Public Works Department, during which period she also pursued her master’s degree at the Central University of Technology (CUT) in Bloemfontein

“My master’s degree curriculum focused heavily on the applications of additive manufacturing, especially in creating facial prosthetics. Through my own research, I then discovered that additive manfacturing had the potential to improve patients’ lives,” she explains. And just like that, iMed Tech — which is modelled around Boston Scientifics, in the USA – was born.

Fortunately, CUT happened to be the same institution that had pioneered additive manufacturing in SA’s healthcare sector, which gave Nkholise easy access to information and expert advice. Convinced that iMed Tech was solid enough for her to branch out into full-time entrepreneurship, she left her nine-to-five job in 2016.

“iMed Tech uses technology to create customised medical solutions in healthcare. We mostly specialise in breast prostheses and surgical planning models,” she explains. “If someone’s body features are injured in an accident, we take scans of the damaged area. Then – using our in-house 3D printers – we create prototypes to gauge the complexity of the design and help the surgeon plan the surgery.”

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To curb costs, Nkholise outsources the manufacturing of the precise models to large companies with a range of biocompatible materials and industrial printers. She currently employs five freelancers who are spread between SA, Canada, Botswana and the UK, as well as a local salesperson.

Having recently added dental aligners to its offerings, the company’s growing at a rapid pace, she says. Nkholise attributes her success to having a number of mentors who service different areas of her business and personal development. She singles out the University of Zimbabwe’s genetics professor, Dr Collen Masimirembwa, who’s an entrepreneur in the same field and the President of the African Institute of Biomedical Technology, as her inspiration.

“Coming from a technology background, my biggest hurdle was transitioning into an entrepreneur. The finance jargon used to torment me,” she recalls, adding that her newest challenge is making cold calls to customers.

As one of the few females in this sector, Nkholise says she’s never had anyone against whom to reference her business. “By starting iMed Tech, I wanted to create a hypothesis which says that women have the power and potential to run businesses within the medical technology sector. And not just ordinary businesses, but ones that will go on to become global conglomerates,” she explains.

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She recently became a fellow of the elite Harambe Entrepreneurship Alliance, which recognises young Africans who are contributing to the continent’s development, particularly in the entrepreneurial sector.

If this and all six of her previous accolades are anything to go by, there’s no doubt this medical technology boffin is one to watch.

NKHOLISE’S TIPS FOR TECHNOLOGY BUSINESSES

  • Locally, there hasn’t been much research done in most scientific and technological fields. Use this as a chance to innovate.
  • Have a flexible business model that will easily adapt to clients’ needs. Sometimes a client doesn’t realise how much a particular product will benefit them until you present it.
  • No matter how messy your start, just forge ahead.