Numbers never lie, they say. But after barely a few years of crunching numbers, Fola Laoye decided to leave spreadsheets and go solve the funding woes of the healthcare sector.
More than two decades later, she has spearheaded the attraction of private equity investors and development finance institutions to healthcare.
She has also participated in deals that have been instrumental in raising over $100 million in capital in the healthcare sector in Africa to date.
With the growth of Africa’s population, the healthcare sector is estimated to be worth $259 billion by 2030 and has the potential to create 16 million jobs.
If any sector needs someone to drive access to funding, it would be the healthcare sector, and that is what Laoye now represents for the healthcare sector.
Fola Laoye is now the co-founder and CEO of Iwosan Investments Limited, the Health Investments Holding Company, which now owns Iwosan Lagoon Hospitals, one of the leading hospitals in the country.
Fola Laoye was born in Lagos State to parents who were both medical doctors. She attended Queen’s College Lagos before proceeding to the University of Lagos, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting.
She worked for a while with Ernst & Young, Lagos, before leaving for the United Kingdom.
Rather than toe her parents’ path to becoming a medical doctor, Fola opted for accounting. She would recount that the decision to become an accountant stemmed from her elder brother.
“I remember when he was already a qualified accountant, he would pick me up and take me to school, and I just used to think that being an accountant meant being so accomplished, structured, and wealthy. So, I followed in his footsteps into accounting because I did think it was a worthy career and I felt it was a skill that I could use,” she said.
She worked with Coopers and Lybrand (now merged into PricewaterhouseCoopers PwC) in London for 5 years. While on the job, she did her professional accounting exams (ACA) and got certified.
She is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria.
She came to Nigeria briefly after her ACA certification, after which she decided to get an MBA in General Management from the Harvard Business School, Cambridge, USA.
While doing her MBA program in the USA, Fola started researching the HMO model of health insurance in the US. This would later form the basis of a lot of innovations she applied to Hygiea Nigeria Limited upon her return to Nigeria. Hygiea was a private healthcare company set up by her parents.
In 1999, Laoye joined Hygeia, and one of the first responsibilities she handled was raising capital.
“When I joined in 1999, we did one of the first deals with a direct foreign investment (DFI) to raise capital for healthcare. It was a small deal (by comparison to other sectors) involving about $500,000 at the time, but it was the first of its kind. It helped pave the way for more capital to be diverted into healthcare, particularly through private equity investments,” she recounted.
Going into healthcare as an accountant, the target was to attack the issue of access to capital in the sector and “build a strong business case to attract more funding”.
The health sector at this point was still in the early stages of adopting health insurance, and Hygeia provided a platform for Fola to apply herself to this interest after the MBA.
In 2002, by the age of 32, Fola Laoye had become CEO of Hygeia Nigeria Limited and would later serve as Chairperson of the board of Hygeia.
Under her leadership, Hygeia created access to healthcare for over 1 million Nigerians.
She led the Hygeia HMO team to launch several health insurance schemes, including the government’s NHIS, corporate schemes, and community health insurance schemes for the urban and rural poor, and these moves attracted international subsidy funding.
After almost two decades with Hygeia, Fola Laoye moved into healthcare private equity in 2016 as director of the Investment Fund for Health in Africa.
Here, she would review investment opportunities within the healthcare landscape across Africa.
After doing this for a couple of years, Fola Laoye founded Health Markets Africa in 2018 to provide advisory and investment services, still within the healthcare industry.
The goal, Fola says, is to build healthcare companies and healthcare markets in Africa. She has served as the CEO since July 2018.
In 2015, she also took up the position of Chairperson of the Old Mutual Life Assurance and still holds this position, as confirmed by her LinkedIn profile.
In 2021, Fola Laoye partnered with Fola Adeola to found Iwosan Investments Limited, a private healthcare investment company dedicated to investing in the Nigerian healthcare market. As stated in the pitchbook, the firm prefers to invest through buyouts and growth capital.
In 2021, Iwosan Investments Limited acquired Lagoon Hospitals from the Hygeia Group, and they are now known as Iwosan Lagoon Hospitals.
Fola Laoye is a trustee of the Harvard Business School Association of Nigeria (HBSAN). She is also a trustee of the Board of the Society for Quality in Healthcare in Nigeria (SQHN) and a member of the Board of the Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI), USA.
Laoye also sits on several boards: Old Mutual West Africa; PAL Pensions; EchoLab Diagnostics; Lifebank Technologies; Results for Development Institute (R4D), Washington, DC, USA; and Harvard Business School’s Healthcare Initiative. She has also been a non-executive director at FSDH Asset Management since December 2019.
In 2011, Fola Laoye was nominated as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. Two years later, in 2013, she was awarded the Harvard Business School Africa Business Club Leadership Excellence Award.
Fola enjoys watching football and basketball. She equally likes networking and has several interests outside of work.
She is a member of the YPO (Young Presidents Organization) Lagos Chapter-founder owner reading and has joined wine networks, sports, and music networks via the group. She also sits on the Africa Regional Board of YPO.
Fola has also dabbled in some angel investing, and she says that even though it gets risky, she enjoys supporting entrepreneurs as they deploy the capital to make the business work.