Jay CabozBy Jay Caboz|November 30, 2021|12 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

Billionaire Tomorrow

"A tragedy that stoked a war on fake drugs"

It was heavy words of death over a phone that sparked a business that claims to save thousands of lives every day and survived the collapse of a country. Nigerian techpreneur Dare Odumade took his frustration and pain to build an app in the fight against fake drugs that can take your life.

It’s the kind of news you dread to hear. For Nigerian entrepreneur Dare Odumade it came over a phone call about a friend in 2017:

“She is a pharmacist and experienced a patient in a hospital clinic in Ghana who died because of a ruptured kidney. The patient’s kidney got ruptured because he was taking a counterfeit antimalarial drug.”

Odumande was shocked and angry. The death of his friend could have been prevented and he investigated. He found thousands of Africans taking their life in their hands by taking counterfeit drugs because they had no choice.

Regulation is loose in Africa exposing millions to lethal chemicals masquerading as life savers. It’s a big issue that’s big business. “The space in Africa has always had this drug issue for years. In terms of Africa, the entire volume of transactions that happens on consumables, including pharmaceuticals is over a trillion dollars,” he says.

The trade in counterfeit pharmaceuticals is worth up to$217 billion per year, with Africa among the regions most affected and the proportion of fake drugs rising up to 70%, according to an industry report in 2017 by PwC. The World Health Organization(WHO) estimatesone out of every 10 medical products in low- and middle-income countries is substandard or fake.

In his home country of Nigeria, Odumande says it is rampant. The country has been fighting a war on fake drugs for years.

There was one investor who was trying to invest at the time. I was busy telling them about the Afghanistan deal. The next minute he said to me: 'yo, man look on the internet, look at what's going on. They are saying the country's gonna crash, the market has goneIt wasn't a lie. Because I could see it happening in front of me on TV,

Dare Odumade founder Chekkit

“It is difficult to tell the real origin of what you’re purchasing, which means if that drug kills somebody, the most you can do is catch the pharmacy that bought it from or the person that distributed it to. Oftentimes, these people are not necessarily the individuals behind this illegal counterfeiting of drugs or substances or substandard drugs.”

In August20 pharmacies were shut down in Lagos for selling fake drugs. In November, overN3 billion ($7 million) was confiscated. A further 103 health facilities in Lagos were shut down by Health Facility Monitoring and Accreditation Agency for quackery and contravening medical rules, reports Premium Times. A mere tip of the iceberg.

The government wants to enforce that all drugs in the country should carry a serialized code by 2025, the question is how?  “It is a billion-dollar problem in Nigeria. There’s not been enough work being done,” says Odumande. Odumande had two other tech start-ups under his belt – StrictlyUI and the second Sharebunk – knew he wanted to build something that would change lives.

“At the time, I spent a year, looking at the pharmaceutical industry, looking at actually solving problems around. My businesses in the past were just for the fun of it and creating technology for the fun of it or just to impact some level of society.”

Odumande put his mind to helping people trace the true origin to a drug from the moment it lands in their hands. He wondered what if you can give consumers the power to check drugs off the shelves.

This was the inspiration he needed to build his business called Chekkit, which with just a simple scan of a barcode on a phone gives consumers access to life-saving drug data. At the dispensary, you can immediately flag that product, and then be able to see if the drug is legal.

Since its humble beginnings in 2018, the company has gone on to distribute over 10 million labels on pharmaceutical products and a further 20 million QR codes on FMCG products across Nigeria.

Consumers can audit anything frommedicine toinfant formula with direct easy access to data like expiry dates; batch ID; product description; as well as the name of the manufacturer and the motivations of the product – for great accountability.

“The point is if you did take a drug, and you feel like you had adverse effects from the drug, you can take a picture and read your reports, and report to the location where you bought it from as well on the app.”


Getting people onboard wasn’t as easy as he thought. They realized that less than 10% of people who buy drugs bother to check them.
“According to the feedback, customers buy drugs out of the trust that we have for pharmacies. They would rather sell these drugs than only sell 100% original to keep the better margins.”

In much the same way Discovery Insurance became the largest insurer in South Africa by motivating people to get fit with discounts and free smoothies, Odumade realised he could get consumers to scan their barcodes if they knew they could get free airtime and merchandise. The idea worked.

“The idea was to use that authentication as a medium of acquiring data for the brands. So, the brands then get insights which become more of a return on investments for them to protect their products. While the consumer on the other end also feels more loyal to the brand that the brand is not only concerned about him taking the authentic him or her taking the authentic drug. The brand is also interested in learning more about him and rewarded him, right with a gift.”

As the business started to take off in Nigeria, another unlikely chance came in war-torn Afghanistan – but it came with hard lessons.

“In business you follow the opportunity. As a start-up any chance we get to showcase our technology to prove to the world the exciting part of our solution and that it works, even in the most treacherous place in the world.”

Afghanistan looked like promising territory. Through a blockchain partner Chekkit successfully ran a pilot project. The project was so successful the government even announced its intention to roll out the entire programme countrywide. Chekkit had secured grant money from the likes of the United Nations and the European Union for about 200 million products.

But then something completely unexpected happened. The United States pulled out of the country, and the entire government collapsed.

“There was one investor who was trying to invest at the time. I was busy telling them about the Afghanistan deal. The next minute he said to me: ‘yo, man look on the internet, look at what’s going on. They are saying the country’s gonna crash, the market has gone’…It wasn’t a lie. Because I could see it happening in front of me on TV,” said Odumade.

The exit was a tough reminder of how the life of an entrepreneur can be as fragile as the country they invest in. While thousands of refugees queued up at airports ready to cling on the wings, if need be, Odumade saw his deal disintegrate before his eyes. 

 A deal that could have saved lives and earned $8 million gone in days.

“That we had that opportunity to prove the technology could work at that scale, is the payoff that we got for the experience. It makes it easier to also have conversations with other governments now.”

Regardless of the tragedy, Chekkit bounced back and is still growing. In 2021 the company closed a$500 thousand pre-seed round onboarding investors such as Launch Africa, Japan Strategic capital, Blockchain Founders Fund, two syndicate groups of angel investors as well as securing grant funding from the Orange Corners program.

At the recent Africa Startup Initiative Program (ASIP) Accelerator Demo Day in Senegal, Chekkit were praised for the work: “These are the businesses that can find solutions to their everyday challenges, because they understand the context in which they live and the needs thereof better than anyone. All we have to do is support and nurture them to become the leading businesses of the future, said Telecel Group Executive Board Deputy and ASIP Director Eleanor Azar.

With the new investment the company wants to increase their membership in Africa from 10 million to 50 million. “I already had that conviction in my spirits in my soul that it was going to work. I don’t even know how big it could get at that point, of course, but I definitely knew it was going to walk,” said Odumade. Software that can save lives was born in tragedy, survived catastrophe in Afghanistan and surely emerged stronger.