From his earliest days, a former childhood friend recalls Dr Chirag Kotecha always wanted to be a medical officer and would say so to anyone who would listen. He started out at Acacia Avenue with five employees and the number has been maintained to date, writes Zuurah Karungi.
Dr Chirag Kotecha, 37, was born and raised in Kisumu, Kenya.
He later went to the United Kingdom (UK) where he completed his A-Level before joining Boston University, USA, where he studied chemistry.
He then returned to the UK where he completed a duo degree in genetics and medicine at St George University in London and graduated with distinction.
Dr Kotecha completed his MBA from the prestigious Imperial College London, and he continues to pursue further qualifications in skin care and aesthetics.
He worked in the UK for several years, gaining vast experience in emergency medicine and aesthetics, before moving to Uganda in 2011, where his family carries out a series of businesses in education and dairy.
He says that since he was a child, he had made several visits to Uganda and was positive he would make something here.
He is married to Radhika with whome he has two children. Radhika is an investment banker.
Kotecha notes that when he finally moved to Uganda, he noticed that there was lack of professional aesthetic doctors and people would either travel abroad for quality skin care and treatment or watch celebrity programmes highlighting beautiful skin and cosmetics in awe.
This is why he decided to do an advanced diploma in aesthetic medicine where he learnt more about skin problems and treatment options for anti-ageing medicine.
Skin clinics were a common service in UK and he knew investing in them could bring him returns as well as give people the service they have been missing as it was a virgin area.
With knowledge acquired in aesthetic medicine, he started Avane Clinic in 2012 which he says is the first medical spa in Uganda.
The clinic offers a wide range of dermatology and cosmetic systems which include; anti-ageing medicine, botox and dermal fillers, medical weight loss systems, dermatology services (treating all skin conditions), laser treatments, chemical peels, hydra facials, body contouring, varicose & spider vein removal and many others.
He could not go to banks for start-up capital because of the high interest rates. The only option was to borrow some money from his parents to which he added his little savings from his job in the UK to start up Avane Clinic.
“After stabilising and starting to get minimal returns, I started paying back the loan I got from my parents,” he says.
He started out at Acacia Avenue with five employees and the number has been maintained to date. He says the business was not hard to manage because he had done under ground check on the business, studied the course and was therefore well equipped on what it takes. The challenge was in proving to the clients that such treatments were now available in Uganda.
The clinic started growing slowly and in 2017, he had to get a more strategic place, the reason he shifted to Forest Mall Lugogo.
He says that Uganda has a lot of virgin opportunities that people can embrace and prosper if well managed.
With growing income, further loans from family and banks, and reinvesting the little profits he was making, Dr Kotecha and his family were able to buy Victoria University Healthcare Centre (VUHC) in 2013. It was soon evident that there is a gap in the market for quality medical care, so VUHC partnered with the UMC group from India and acquired Kadic Hospital in Bukoto. They rebranded to UMC Victoria Hospital and opened up a state-of-the-art 100-bed hospital in Bukoto in 2018, providing direct and indirect employment to about 250 people.
He notes that tax imposed on imported materials is so high as he spent so much money on bringing machinery to the country. “This is tough to a person who is just starting as they put in a lot. This also makes the delivery of service more expensive to the consumer.”
He says that the life expectancy in Uganda is currently at 59 years and there is need for National Health Insurance to help improve health care since it’s the biggest challenge in Uganda today.
Getting the money you invested takes long because for his case, he invested in dollars and income is in shillings. This makes it hard to get back the money you invested.
“The cost of finance is high in Uganda which makes getting a loan to expand the business risky since the interest rates are too high.”
“I wish the government can give subsidies and support to the private sector for us to survive in this tight economy,” said Kotecha.
He also says that the skilled labour force is tempted to leave Uganda and find employment opportunities abroad for the better salaries.
However, there are those who continue to stay here and through better partnerships between the public and private sectors, improved services can be offered.
Kotecha notes that most businesses fail due to poor planning; “You need to get feasible business ideas before investing. However, in our developing nation it is usually about taking the risk as most- business plans are not realistic. Be prepared for the unexpected. Perseverance and commitment are spices that make every business thrive so one should make them fundamental. Collaboration with others promotes growth.” He adds that not every successful person made it easily and that success in never a straight line.
“Do a study on the business you are venturing in, the good and the bad. Talk to people who have succeeded in it to be sure about what you are getting into. There are a variety of challenges in business but you have to take them as lesson and go on. Returns don’t come right away so give your business enough time to grow before extracting money from it,” says Kotecha.
“You can identify an opportunity by thinking of a need that is not addressed; this could be a common need affecting people at home, or around you. You need to keep your eyes and ears open all the time. Most opportunities come from the le around us.”
Kotecha says the skin is mostly damaged by exposure to sunlight, therefore one needs to avoid operating in direct sun and applying a good quality sun screen.
Everyone wants to look beautiful and good quality skin care helps; if in doubt, seek professional help as once the damage is done, reversing it is a lengthy, complicated, and expensive affair.
We are what we eat, so eat a balanced healthy diet, with plenty of fruit and vegetables, and avoid or reduce the oily and fatty foods. Exercise is also very important as it not only releases endorphins, or happy hormones, but promotes a healthy heart. Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated as this also helps maintain a youthful glowing skin, and cut down on the alcohol intake.
As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure, so we encourage people to invest in themselves and undergo regular health check-ups to ensure any problems are detected up early and managed, before the cost gets out of control and quality of life reduces.