How Ugandan startup M-Scan is making ultrasounds—and critical care— accessible for women in Eastern Africa
How support from Outbox, a Google for Startups partner, helped a founder start and scale their business
The above video was filmed in 2019.
As a student of medical radiography at Makerere University School of Medicine in Uganda, Phyllis Kyomuhendo traveled to rural health centers to hone her skills—but even with her training she could only do so much without the necessary infrastructure. “The school sent us to a place with no electricity, where it was impossible to care for patients,” she remembers. Phyllis watched in frustration as several women died from preventable conditions due to a lack of functional equipment. “There’s nothing worse than feeling like a useless healthcare worker.”
In Uganda, 16 women die every day due to pregnancy complications, and 7 of these deaths could be prevented through ultrasounds. With the goal of changing these outcomes, Phyllis founded M-Scan, a startup that offers a low-cost, portable device that pairs with laptops, tablets, and mobile phones to produce ultrasound scans. The company’s mission is to reduce maternal mortality rates by ensuring early detection and management of risk factors with this inexpensive and easy-to-transport tool.
Seeking out innovative ways to save lives was one thing, but building a company around that mission was something entirely new for the M-Scan team. “We had all this medical knowledge, but no experience in business,” Phyllis recalls. “Taking the product through the prototyping phases and trying to find a way to make money—all while still creating social impact, was so so difficult.”
So Phyllis and her team found Outbox, a Google for Startups partner, through the UpAccelerate program, where they received early-stage mentoring. After the accelerator, Outbox offered the team office space and Google product and people support. Phyllis says, “The Outbox community has become our family. The team guided us by highlighting opportunities, sharing advice on our business models, and connecting us with startups facing similar challenges to us—as well as later-stage companies who could provide perspective and inspiration.”
The founder of Outbox, Richard Zulu, quickly took M-Scan under his wing. “He’s a business guru and he’s seen us through the company journey that we’re on right now,” says Phyllis. With guidance from Zulu and Outbox, M-Scan explored potential revenue and impact models and transitioned from a social impact-focused startup to a hybrid company where the for-profit arm could support the social impact arm.
Through it all, M-Scan remains committed to their mission of providing all women with the critical care they need and deserve. The team is looking forward to restarting their full operations while incorporating models spurred by COVID-19. “The initiation of the home-based ultrasound service was a positive change, so we hope to continue that,” Phyllis says. Her advice for fellow founders? Don’t be afraid to dream big: “Whenever you feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are so many people and organizations that are willing to help you. All you have to do is ask.”