Pazion Cherinet - CEO of Orbit Health & Orbit Innovation Hub
Pazion Cherinet is the CEO of Orbit innovation hub and Orbit health. He has spent the last six years building up one of the most successful tech companies and entrepreneurs’ incubation centers. Pazion is also the first ever Ethiopian to be nominated for African Innovation Prize. He has founded multiple start-ups and is now helping launch many more ventures in Ethiopia. Pazion believes in impactful change and strives to bring that to the Ethiopian ecosystem. Loline had an insightful conversation with Mr. Pazion about his journey.
The childhood dream
“Entrepreneurs are made, and not born.”
Mr. Pazion had an uncle who used to challenge him on what he planned to be when he grew up. Those, he credits, triggered his passion for engineering. Later, joining engineering school pushed him further into applying knowledge for change. He found himself in an environment where people start with an idea and thrive. His desire for figuring things out and building solutions has led him to where he is now. Mr. Pazion didn’t grow up planning to become an entrepreneur; he evolved into it.
"Entrepreneurship was like a bee sting."
Pazion has a background in engineering and aviation. His entrepreneurial spirit was awakened when he was back in university studying computer & electrical engineering. Engineering courses taught him to see things from a creative solutions perspective. After graduation, he went out to work at Boeing. In 2005, he launched his very first startup. It was a social media platform that run for about 4 years and closed.
Pazion moved into the digital and e-commerce sector and launched three companies. He speaks of the business environment in the West in a quite positive sense. He told us there is openness to ideas and support to bring those to the ground. Staying in such a nurturing environment, he explained, helped him meet with various companies.
While at Boeing, Pazion came to Ethiopia to work with Ethiopian Airlines. He remembers how his team had a hard time locating restaurants. It hit him then and there. He decided to come to Ethiopia every year and study areas to work on. He told us he focused on ideas that were feasible and scalable not only in Ethiopia but also in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Pazion was quick to realize he couldn’t do thorough research at a distance. He found himself a partner who helped him clarify things in detail. With that market understanding, he was keen to solve problems he faced himself. One was the poor health care system which he once struggled with. That became his impact story.
“Health should transcend into wellness.”
Mr. Pazion pinpointed the problem in the health care system as an information system. He saw a wide gap in communicating data. He came to know the solutions were digitization and accessibility. He affirms better services are factored by better information management. He described how pharmacies, clinics, laboratories, and other health facilities can leverage this. His belief in a healthy society being the drive for a nation’s productivity is strong.
This project is spread across various health facilities. It has made advances in terms of creating a portal for patients. It gives recommendations based on seven metrics. It is not about getting an appointment with a doctor. The aim is to create a vast information system people can take heed from.
“When you are an engineer, it is about solving a problem.”
Mr. Pazion says he wishes he knew what he knows now, while starting Orbit Health. He shared an experience they had at St. Paul Kidney Transplant Center. The team focused on solving technical problems and not business intelligence dimensions and overlooking people’s openness to technology. Mr. Pazion says the problem was that they undermined the importance of understanding and studying the business scenario inside out. Two years down the lane, they were told to leave as there was no standard to work with. His team offered help to address the problem but was rejected at the time.
The other problem lies in talking to the wrong people. Mr. Pazion commented on the irony of some people seeking consultation from their childhood friends. He told us how many advices different ways of making easy money rather than bringing a massive impact. He also mentioned the negligence of officials in facilitating the materialization of ideas. Communicating the best way possible proved to be crucial.
Another challenge is digital illiteracy. This has made the adaptation of technology difficult. Mr. Pazion turned this into creating an Orbit Academy, where they began providing training to health and other professionals.
Mr. Pazion remembers a time they built a system that failed to meet the needs. The system didn’t have the features needed to manage the business side of it. They learned to improve it and become more transparent to support a data-driven decision support system.
Orbit Innovation hub
“I don’t ask innovators what they are trying to do; I ask what they are trying to solve.”
Mr. Pazion believes the struggle of startups is double-fold when they fail to personalize the problem. His next biggest requirement is thinking through market entry strategies. He said the attitude should be problem-solving and not creating jobs or building a corporation; these can come naturally as a by-product of solving societies' complex problems. The startup mogul added his observation of how some people get too ambitious trying to solve a problem too narrow to succeed in the market.
“Entrepreneurship is not a hobby.”
Mr. Pazion’s experience in the incubation space has revealed people’s misunderstanding of starting a company. He says people expect immediate profits; otherwise, they assume the business is a failure. He advises being passionate and doing the hard work. As someone who founded multiple companies, he says brilliant ideas would only work when you get your hands dirty.
Had Mr. Pazion come directly from academia, his words would have less weight. The various global experiences put his team at an advantage. He spoke against the distorted picture of the glamor of startups; rather saying it is tough. However, for the passionate, no challenge can’t be beaten.
“There is so much to do in this country.”
At Orbit innovation hub, ideas are analyzed for practicality. It is even preferable for someone to have the technical skill to be a founder. Mr. Pazion told us the criteria to select ideas. The team and their background, the way they understand their idea, the plan to put it into practice, and how well the idea is articulated are chief evaluation points. Commitment and willingness to learn also count.
“It doesn't make sense for someone to preach about founding a company without attempting to create one”
Mr. Pazion does not think training alone brings mindset change. Courses do not make you an entrepreneur. He described his time at university, where he worked with AT&T mobile service provider. That practical program, he believes, equipped him with competitive skills for jobs. He has brought that practice by hiring interns who haven’t yet graduated.
Mr. Pazion currently works with nine facilities. The main aim is to advance the health information system, it has the means to help you access data across all care centers. They are linking the facilities back-to-back and creating affordable means to access the patient medical information.
Mr. Pazion believes in his ability to bring positive change. He said the key is in having a “bigger WHY” and never losing it. He said problems will always be there. As a person who lived through it, he told us that the right mindset will help you float in struggling times. He has thrived in an environment where the problem is systematically burdening.
Orbit in a few years
“We want to compete with the international giants.”
Mr. Pazion told us the five-year plan shows Orbit will grow into a global company. They also want to expand into other services such as health finance, insurance, and other sectors. The team is eying investors who would leverage Orbit’s growth-oriented business and expansion ambition.