Ola Orekunrin: Started The First Air Ambulance Service in West Africa in 2009 At 23

BY ADEOLU ADESANYA

I have this feel that anything healthcare is definitely going to be capital intensive so the more I think of what this lady has done, the more I’m thrilled by her achievement. The truth is, the excitement of entrepreneurship is in solving problems; but wanting to solve a capital-intensive problem without having no-money or little money sure wouldn’t even be close to exciting.

So what has Dr. Ola Orekunrin done with Flying Doctors, they basically provide air ambulance service in Nigeria conveying critically ill patients to where they can get suitable level of care, the closest air ambulance Nigerians could get before now, was either from South Africa, Kenya or Uganda. Which is quiet surprising bearing in mind the wealth in Nigeria.

To venture into this, you need many things going for you, after crossing the capital hurdle, you will need the personnel to make this functional, and most of all, the patronage. Convincing companies and the government is definitely no mean feat, talk less of convincing moderately wealthy Nigerians — which when it comes to do with health, they do not like taking chances, they prefer going with trusted hands.

Ola Orekunrin has a touching story of the inspiration that led to Flying Doctors, she said her sister fell ill while she was on holiday in Lagos, and they needed an air ambulance service to take her back to England, and they closest one they could get was in far away South Africa and while it was getting organized her sister died. After discussing with a couple of friends she decided to go ahead and set it up, seeing it was lacking in Nigeria. This explains why, even with the difficult conditions, she has still ventured into this, and achieving good success.

As many will know, starting a business in Nigeria isn’t for the faint-hearted. In 2009 at the age of 23, Ola Orekunrin started by selling off her few belongings, and in no time she ran out of money, but she still weather the storm, and was able to secure license for operation,, get the leases for aircrafts, and was able to set up a team of people to work with; a team of people who weren’t paid salary, but just believed in the dream and worked based on sheer inspiration (Note To Self: This is one of the lessons I’ve learnt in business, to always work with people who believe in my vision). When she started they were doing 1 flight every 3 months, which wouldn’t have meant there wasn’t enough income to run the business. But has more people became aware of Flying Doctors, the frequency of patronage increased to around 2 flights every week, and now they have moved into their own place and now rented a hangar and they aren’t even 3 years in operation yet.

Ola Orekunrin believes one of the keys to running a business is to be blessed to have the right people around you that can help translate your vision to reality.

P.S: She said “…I was able to learn a great lesson — when you need something, people tend to avoid you but when you don’t need anything and seem to be making profit, they tend to become your best friend.” I loved every bit of this sentence, when I read Ola Orekunrin’s interview; because it is something I usually say to people around me, “be a person of influence”, anyways that’s by the way.

 

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Adeolu Adesanya: I share the opinion of an enterprising mind. I’m Christian. I believe ideas and innovation change the world. I’m a research consultant with P&D Allianz providing market research, competitive intelligence, and management consulting to various start-ups and medium & small businesses in emerging markets.

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