Semular Pharmacy opens in the afternoon when customers start returning home from work or picking up children from school. That’s when they’re most likely to pick up a prescription, over-the-counter medication, meal formulas, or a water bottle to stay hydrated in the Nairobi heat. Among the orderly, well-stocked shelves, they’ll find Serah, a pharmacist and the owner of Semular Pharmacy.
Serah has over a decade of experience in healthcare, having worked in a hospital before becoming a pharmacist. Last year, she decided to start her own business and opened Semular Pharmacy in the neighborhood she lives in with her husband and their two young daughters. Since then, she’s been devoted to educating her community and providing them with the medications they need at the right price.
In addition to the items for sale, Serah provides consultations to her customers. The cost of a doctor can be prohibitive, she notes: “When you visit a hospital, you need to pay a consultation fee. Maybe the doctor will send you for a lab test. But when you come into the pharmacy, especially if you find somebody who has experience and who will take your history, they’ll help you get the correct management.” Of course, this management includes referrals to a doctor when appropriate. While Serah is often the first point of contact about many of her customers’ medical needs, she knows she shouldn’t be the last.
To keep her shelves stocked with safe and effective medications, Serah uses Shelf Life, a digital product from Field Intelligence. Field Intelligence, an Accion Venture Lab portfolio company, is a health tech platform specializing in planning, fulfillment, and stock management, and provides embedded financial services for pharmacies, hospitals, and other medical providers. According to the Financial Times, they were the fastest-growing health company in Africa in 2022. Accion partners with innovative fintech startups like Field to deliver high-quality, affordable solutions that help underserved people like Serah — and her customers — to improve their lives.
Underdeveloped supply chains and price fluctuations pose significant challenges to small pharmacies like Serah’s, and by extension, to her customers. The Shelf Life platform offers affordable inventory management, delivery, and financing services. Through Shelf Life, Serah can place regular or ad-hoc orders for the medications and other products she needs. A driver will deliver the requested items for no charge. Every two weeks, a Field Intelligence representative arrives to count her inventory, and she’s only charged for what has been sold.
This “pay-as-you-sell” model means that Serah’s cash is not tied up in unsold inventory. Liquidity allows her to think more broadly about the needs of her customers. In the short term, she has essential medications from Shelf Life, as well as cash on hand to stock sweets, contraceptives, and other products her customers want. Longer-term, so that she can better support her neighbors, she is also pursuing a public health certification with a focus on pediatrics and family planning. Field Intelligence also offers a managed credit offering which helps pharmacies pay a fixed amount for inventory over a defined period or the option to pay before or upon delivery with rewards built in.
Community pharmacies like Serah’s play an important role in reducing barriers to medical care, including supporting reproductive health. Serah takes pride in counseling her customers about family planning: teaching them about the options available to them to manage their reproductive health, and offering birth control injections to those who choose that method. As a next step, she plans to build a consultation room so she can meet with customers more privately to discuss family planning and other sensitive topics. “I want to specialize more on pediatrics and family planning. It’s one of the areas I’ve seen a gap in our patients. When it comes to family planning, they are not informed. They don’t know how to make the choice of which family planning to choose.” Knowing that she has the medications she needs allows Serah to focus on her passion for providing medical advice and education to her customers.
“I thank Shelf Life,” she says. “With Shelf Life on board, I’m not worried when it comes to stock. I’ll pay as I sell. The person who came up with that idea, it was brilliant. I appreciate it.”