South African Doctor Combats SSA Malnutrition, Shares Insights Into Starting Business in China
Under the light of a glass pendant, Dr. Brett Lyndall Singh introduced his medical technology project Alpha & Omega Nutrition to a group of experts.
The product, called Alpha & Omega (A&O) NutriPowder, is the world’s first China-Africa specialized healthcare initiative combating Sub-Saharan African pediatric malnutrition, Singh said at the Overseas Talent Entrepreneurship Conference (OTEC) in September in Beijing.
He won the China National OTEC Entrepreneur of the Year in 2020.
Singh also represented his motherland South Africa, Zhejiang Province and the international medical fraternity at the China National Commendation Ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in September. The ceremony was to honor outstanding individuals and organizations in the fight against COVID-19.
“I would have never expected to be in China for this long and I am grateful for the success,” Singh said.
Story with China began in 2011
Born in 1993, Singh had always dreamed of becoming a doctor. When he was a young boy, he lived with his family and grandmother before a heart attack took her life. Singh was with her, witnessing her passing and he didn’t know how to do CPR.
“I think that cemented the idea of me becoming a doctor because we were very close and I used to take care of her. As a doctor, your job is to treat your patients, not only that, a big part of a doctor’s job is to listen to your patient, have good rapport and finally give them your professional advice in the course of treatment,” he said.
When Singh was in fifth grade, he designed a hospital for a science project. “I have always wanted to make an impact in the healthcare field ever since I was young.”
He applied to Wenzhou Medical University because of its “high ranking and affordability” when he was in South Africa and got the offer.
In 2011, Singh came to China. At that time, he didn’t know anything about China or Chinese language, so he started taking Chinese lessons.
“I remember burning the midnight oil studying in the classroom with some close friends, all focused on achieving academic excellence even though sometimes we couldn’t see the results.”
He said his life in China was very tough in the beginning. “I had to learn the language by force. I had to study Chinese from the textbook with the teacher and practice by speaking with locals and interacting with others. No apps or websites.”
He said he had a lot of help from his teachers, good friends and his church as he was always surrounded with the right people who were wiser and more experienced to mentor and lead him.
“I feel that Chinese culture rewards hardworking people. If you’re lazy, you’re not really respected. China is definitely one of the most competitive environments, it will teach you how to develop proper time management, character building, respect, integrity and compassion.”
In 2016, Singh, a final year intern at the Second Affiliated Hospital of Wenzhou Medical University under the mentorship of Dr. Chen Hao, rotated around all the different departments between pediatrics, internal medicine, surgery, and obstetrics & gynecology.
He wrote case histories, lab reports, presented case reports, did clinical skills exams and finally graduated. After training at South Africa’s Grey’s Hospital, Australia’s Royal Melbourne Hospital, and other institutions He finally chose to continue his clinical and research work in the field of Pediatrics under Professor Cai Xiaohong.
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Alpha & Omega Nutrition
In 2016, A World Health Organization research healthcare team, went to Malawi in Southeastern Africa to help children with malnutrition.
That trip made him realize that the greatest challenge Sub Saharan Africa has today is combating malnutrition, which inspired him to start his company.
In 2017, he went back to Wenzhou Medical University to continue his Masters of Medicine in pediatrics and landed his novel research topic on Sub Saharan African (SSA) malnutrition.
According to his survey results and UNICEF in 2019, there are a total of 795 million malnourished kids. SSA has the highest population growth rate among all developing regions, with an increase from 856 million today to 2 billion in just 25 years. And in 2020, the WHO estimates that SSA would account for more than 70% of malnutrition worldwide.
To solve this pandemic, Singh and his team birthed a solution at the National Key Laboratory of WMU and developed A&O NutriPowder.
According to Singh, its features are an exclusive patent: high-quality blended protein, accounting for 71g per 100g, which is 9% higher than the average level. Lipids, vitamins, minerals and trace elements are also added.
A&O NutriPowder manufactures a patented oligosaccharide fortified protein formula based on original scientific research and development for malnourished children living in SSA. The core technology is built upon ground breaking research to manufacture oligosaccharide compounds which have proven intestinal maturity benefits in infants. The compound is sourced from the abundant waste material of sugar cane in SSA.
During their research, they found that through the sugar process, there’s a waste material called molasses that people do not use. But out of a big quantity of molasses, people can get a small amount of oligosaccharide which is able to promote intestinal maturity and development, which means that the protein they ingest would have better absorption utilization.
Singh’s team also built an app and WeChat mini-program to track the health progress of malnourished child via AI and AR cloud design accompanying the protein formula.
Singh still remembered some challenges in their project development. “Research and development over the past three years have not been easy,” he said.
The challenges they faced during research and development were trying to find a team that is capable of getting proper data, statistically analyzing the data and able to come up with a solution, he said.
“That meant that I had to process many applications, find the right professors to help me to register my research topic and to get funding from the National Health Institute, WHO, and various governments and NGO’s to get a whole team of postgraduate students and researchers to start research on my project,” he said.
Thankfully, he had a lot of institutions to help him such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially the African department, Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, South African Embassy in China, Brand South Africa, Wenzhou City Municipal government, and different departments in South Africa. They helped him find the right people.
“You have to ask, you can’t just assume. As they say, ‘ask, and it shall be given, seek and you will find, knock, and the door will be opened to you.’ Always expect to be successful, and you will always be prepared for it. Every industry is different, being in the medical technology industry, you are treating the human body, so the process ought to be controlled.”
It took his team about three years to get funding from the Chinese Academy of Science and Technology. “Publishing your paper takes you many years to get the right results, especially to analyze and discern whether this will truly do what it claims.”
They finally finished their research in December 2019 and got the funding.
Singh’s team is comprised of the brightest Chinese and African minds from Top Medical Instutions in China and South Africa. The R&D team is based in China’s famous home of Entrepreneurs, Wenzhou City. With a multidisciplinary international group of expert advisors particularly in public health and pediatrics.
The startup capital was $500,000. And at present, the team has collected almost $200,000 from prize winnings and joint venture contracts, of which 75% has gone towards research, development and production of A&O NutriPowder. The next round of funding is expected to come from the WHO and NHI.
Singh believes the market potential is huge. What’s more, there are excellent African government support policies for pediatric companies and the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative.
A&O NutriPowder’s marketing strategy is a B2G2C Hybrid Model. Procurements are made directly from SSA Governments, NGO’s and other Institutions, and distributed to a desired population. Currently, they have initiated cooperation with five e-commerce platforms and hospitals across SSA.
In 2018, he co-founded an e-commerce company, and gained experiential knowledge of business, marketing and especially working on China-Africa projects.
“From the beginning, I never thought I would be involved in business or have company or participate in all these competitions,” he said.
“Every child deserves the opportunity to live their best life, that’s why I started Alpha & Omega Nutrition, aiming to nourish every African child,” he said.
A&O Nutrition’s Accolades include: a Geneva Challenge 2020 participant, World Young Scientist Summit & United Nations 75th Year Anniversary University Startup World Cup Finalist, Zhejiang Internet + Gold Award and China National Challenge Cup Special Prize, among others.
During COVID-19 this year, Singh has also taken on an important role in fighting against the pandemic.
He worked with a special anti-pandemic task force team in Wenzhou Medical University as a volunteer and conducted online medical consultations for those unable to travel during strict lockdown.
What’s more, he worked with the Chinese and South African government to share real information about the pandemic through vlogs. Representing ChinaStory, and Zhejiang Province as an Internet personality, as well as representing Brand South Africa showcasing good news from the Rainbow Nation.
He also worked with Zhejiang Eternal Love Foundation, Blazing Youth Community Wenzhou and Wenzhou Foreign Affairs to donate over 500,000 pieces of PPE to DGMT South Africa, worth over $120,000 mainly to Eastern Cape Province in South Africa.
And he attended an awards ceremony to honor outstanding individuals and organizations in the fight against COVID-19 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. He met and shook hands with well-known doctor Zhang Wenhong there.
In July, he graduated with a Masters of Medicine In Pediatrics at Wenzhou Medical University. After this, he said he would continue to innovate in the medical technology industry.
“It is worth mentioning that China has quite a great entrepreneurship spirit, in most cities there is a great buzz to be the next global innovator, entrepreneur or the next unicorn,” he said.
“They try to inspire university students to think of innovative ways to solve the world’s problems. I would suggest people to enter entrepreneurship competitions, find the right policy for your industry, and take advantage of every opportunity to develop yourself and your business.”
After winning one of China’s biggest entrepreneurship competitions – OTEC this year, he said, “This is a great opportunity for excellent start-ups with a clear business model, no matter the industry.”
“To those who want to start their own enterprise in China, have faith, get up, and start,” Singh said.