How a doctor is milking the oxygen market so Africa can breathe easy
Bernard Olayo builds oxygen plants near hospitals, a business that has boomed since the advent of Covid-19
Like just about everyone, Bernard Olayo watched with dismay as the coronavirus began to sweep across the globe last year. But he also sensed an opportunity. In 2014 he’d founded a company called Hewatele (“abundant air” in Swahili) to supply African hospitals with oxygen, and when the pandemic sent demand soaring he was able to quickly boost production.
His strategy of building small oxygen plants near hospitals differs from that of larger producers, which typically favour big, centralised facilities. Olayo says this “milkman model” has allowed him to undercut his competitors’ prices in a market where oxygen costs 10 times what it does in the UK.
Hewatele has about 10% of the Kenyan market, serving about 250 hospitals. Olayo says he’s raised $4m (about R60,5m) and is seeking at least $13.5m (about R204m) to fund expansion. He hopes to build a liquid oxygen plant and start to export the gas to neighbouring countries. ..