09 January 2023

Innovation and Impact Awards: Thuria's alumni story

Thuria Wenbar Photo

Thuria Wenbar is the CEO of e-Pharmacy and was the recipient of an Innovation and Impact award in 2019, for Student/Graduate Innovation and Enterprise. Thuria graduated from UEA with a medicine degree in 2017. 

The Innovation and Impact Awards are open for applications now and will close on 25 January. UEA staff, students and recent graduates are eligible to enter the Awards themselves, or to nominate a colleague for their work. Thuria will be a judge for the awards in 2023. 

[The Innovation and Impact Award mattered] not only from an external perspective but internally - the team felt like their jobs mattered. We weren’t just an idea anymore. We were making an impact.

What have you been up to since leaving UEA?

I graduated after studying medicine at UEA but I’ve always loved coding and have dabbled in computer programming since I was 7. 
After graduating and doing 18 months as a qualified doctor, on the training route to many more years of exams, I decided to drop out of the classic doctor training pathway and focus on my digital health business (set up in the March before graduation). 
Major achievements to me: 

•    We reached our 250,000 patient milestone last summer!
•    We’re rated 4.8/5 stars on Trustpilot - it’s cheesy, but it matters. I like hearing the good we do for our patients
•    We won the UEA Santander Do It Award and UEA Innovation and Impact award – these were the fits bits of “external validation” we received. 
•    Tech Nation Rising Stars Applied AI award – The first time we were recognised by a national body and won against so many other incredibly impressive businesses
•    Delloite fastest 50 tech companies. We were 27th on the list of all tech companies, and 4/10 of women lead tech companies. 

Describe e-Pharmacy and how it came about.

E-Pharmacy is an embeddable pharmacy for the web. We sit on 3rd party websites and allow them to offer their customers access to prescription medication without needing to visit a doctor. 
We started out in the direct-to-consumer space, growing via our own brand (e-Surgery.com). An individual can come to the website, choose the medication they need, fill in a form-based health consultation, pay for their item and we would handle all the back-end checks so that the individual can get their medication the next day (as long as it’s clinically appropriate). 
We realised a lot of people didn’t know they could go online to get the treatments without a prescription, so we decided to partner with 3rd party companies, reaching patients on the websites and apps they already visit. We started with Ann Summers - offering their customers access to medication for sexual health. We’re now going live with 4 more companies!

How did UEA help develop your business?

We’ve been heavily involved with The Enterprise Centre and the Student Enterprise Team. We received several grants, we had access to their network and advisors of people who’ve done it before. 
We’ve even had support from different faculties. We were a business case study for a group of students studying French who worked with us to identify if that was a territory we could expand into. During covid, we borrowed glassware from the pharmacy department and made sanitiser as we have a large warehouse. We gave this out for free to all our over 60’s customers and local Norfolk businesses. I’m incredibly grateful to have studied at UEA. The support has been amazing. 

Why did you decide to enter the Innovation and Impact Awards?

To recognise the hard work every single member of the team does. It’s a milestone.

Did the recognition of the award help develop your business?

Yes. Not only from an external perspective but internally - the team felt like their jobs mattered. We weren’t just an idea anymore. We were making an impact. 

What are your fondest memories of studying at UEA?

I have so many. I met my now husband and business partner in my first year at UEA. We’ve just celebrated 10 years together. From barbeques around the lake, house parties at the zigs and gigs at the LCR, to hours dedicated to the library top floor (the views are amazing for studying and reading). 
I still go for walks around the lake! Our non-executive director and I will book in a 2 hour meeting and then end up spending 3-4 hours looping the lake.

What was your experience of Medicine as a school of study? Was there a supportive community?

I loved 4.5 out of 5 years of medical school. The last few months revising for finals was tough! 
I am so grateful to have come to a university where we studied via problem based learning and clinical vignettes. It made me a stronger doctor and helped me see medicine as just one massive algorithm. We’ve now built AI clinical assistants using models from that form of thinking. 
I’d like to add, I think the university picks students who think outside the box, and they encourage that form of thinking. For my elective, I asked if I could work with the CEO and manager of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, and they helped arrange it. Many classmates have gone on to do incredible things outside of being a doctor. 

What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a health business?

Speak to your end user. Build for a problem that actually exists! And just start. You’ll learn it along the way. Many people will happily answer a cold linked in message and give you 30 minutes of advice for free. 

And what’s next for you and e-Pharmacy?

We’re scaling to work with 20 businesses by April 2024, aiming to reach our 1,000,000 patient milestone! In order to do that, we’re going to be doing lots of hiring. Hint hint! Just to add, if anyone is interested in a part time job whilst they’re a student, we’re always happy to work with interns. Running a business isn’t always glamourous and it’s not for the faint hearted. There are countless sleepiness nights (even 5 years in!) and it’s good to know what you’re really getting yourself into if that’s the route you want to go.