Standard Code, an Atlanta-based company that builds cloud-based data apps and tools for global health organizations, has partnered with life sciences and pharmaceutical enterprise Merck to deploy their proprietary SDK platform in Africa. To put the platform to use, Standard Code will be expanding their operations and opening an office in Nairobi, Kenya, and sending Jared Malan, founding partner and product designer, to lead it.
“We’re good at collecting, storing, and sharing data,” says Malan, who has been commuting back and forth from Africa to Atlanta for two years. “We’ve gotten especially good at collecting data in unconventional places and ways. Africa has made us good at that. Being here will make us much better.”
Through the partnership with Merck, which is the oldest and one of the largest chemical and pharmaceutical companies in the world, Standard Code will help track donated drugs from inception to its recipient in Kenya, as well as obtain insights from users to further improve the product.
“Beyond the tool, we are creating our own datasets to relieve suffering. We maintain some of the most important global health databases for others. We are in discussion to map cancer throughout the continent as well as noncommunicable disease in children,” says Malan, who has officially crossed the pond along with his family to build the team in Nairobi.
Hypepotamus caught up with Malan after his first week on the ground and learn more on Standard Code’s partnership with Merck, get a sneak peek into the team’s decision process to expand, and how he hopes this will reflect back on Atlanta.
How did the partnership with Merck come about and how did it influence your decision to expand to Nairobi?
We built the technology that the World Health Organization uses to track drug donation programs. One of the pharmaceuticals that donates a huge number of drugs through the WHO is Merck. We became direct clients with Merck to help them run a pilot that tracks the donations all the way down to the child who receives the drug. Earlier this year, I came to Kenya to prepare for that pilot. I got to know the Merck team and learn about what Merck resources are in the country. This led us to extend our partnership with them through their accelerator program.
While you have business all over Africa, why did you choose Nairobi to set up your business? Is this just due to the Merck partnership?
Nairobi is the place to be when it comes to working in East Africa. It is a thriving hub for global health and international development. This was very apparent as we spent time here. We considered other locations, but Nairobi is central to our work and doesn’t have major safety concerns like other countries we are active in. Merck has also been key to bringing us to Nairobi. The move has been much easier because we are leveraging their resources.
How will the Nairobi office help connect the field teams to your technology?
Standard Code is a team of developers in Atlanta, Georgia. Most of us have never been to Africa and don’t really understand what life is like there. My first time in Kenya was just last month. People are in many ways the same everywhere, but there are also important differences. Also, the environment, the infrastructure, the opportunities throughout Africa are very very different. Understanding the people and environment make us better and more empathetic builders.
What kind of team members are you looking for to grow the team in Nairobi? Will the team be product development focused?
We are looking for people who have a deep understanding of Africa and can help us find opportunities and implement solutions. We’re looking for global health experts. People who have roots in Africa. Global health requires a lot of partnership building. You need buy in from the government, help with implementation, and funding support. Different organizations are good at these activities so it’s important to have someone who knows how to get all the parties activated.
We’ll keep product development in our home office because there are a lot of benefits to being in the same space, but we want to provide many more opportunities for the coders to experience Africa. Each member of the core team will be joining me in Nairobi for two weeks to experience the country.
Standard Code saw an opportunity to grow in order to innovate. There’s still a risk. How did you decide as a team that this was the right move?
We started Standard Code as a way to supplement our product work. We did web development for whoever had money to spend. During this time, we happened to be introduced to a global health organization. We did good work for them so we found ourselves expanding within the global health world. We kept getting new opportunities referred to us by our clients.
Four years later, we build almost exclusively for global health organizations. We are now at a stage where having a presence in Africa is important. It adds a level of credibility for our clients and helps us make better technology decisions. From the outside, this looks risky, but we have set the expansion up in such a way that it’s only a modest investment on our part. Merck has been instrumental in making the expansion feasible.
I’d say the biggest risk is moving my young family over. Nairobi is not an easy city for children. But the experience was something I and my family wanted. My seven-year old thought it was a bigger risk. He was both concerned about the airplanes ability to fly over the entire ocean and the lions.
This partnership is one of a kind! How do you hope your success will reflect back on Atlanta’s startup scene?
Atlanta is especially good at a few things. The tech community has taken advantage of most of those strengths. Global health however has been missed. Atlanta has the CDC, the Task Force for Global Health, Emory, and the Carter Center to name a few of the highlights. We hope to help others tech startups think about making a real impact. We like to say that we help relieve suffering with data. That’s a big mission that many other startups could embrace.
While startup life is unpredictable, how are you handling the move along with your family? Do you have any immediate goals you hope to accomplish once you’re on the ground?
I’ve now been in Nairobi for a week. It’s been difficult on many fronts. Just getting food and water requires a whole new level of effort. But we’re now mostly settled in, we’re past our jet lag, and we got out of the city to see giraffe and zebra and hippos and many other animals.
As for work, we continue to progress our work with Merck as we build out a focused use case for Secure Data Kit. My days will be spent talking to pharmaceutical companies, ministries of health, and NGOs. We also have a few product updates coming online that we’ll test in country.