Dubai 100: the new faces of digital health

The search for the next big innovation in China’s blossoming digital health sector is on, with the launch of the Dubai 100 Bootcamp in Shanghai

For Steve Chu, digital health is not just the next buzzword. After experiencing a stroke, Chu’s grandfather-in-law, who lived in a remote rural community in China, found it near-impossible to travel to the nearest clinic for rehabilitation. He suffered from, says Chu, a “pretty miserable last few years.”

His start-up, MagiKare, hopes to alleviate this kind of suffering by offering tele-rehabilitation: stroke patients can attach sensors to themselves and perform the physical exercises needed for their rehabilitation at home, corrected in real-time by an app.

MagiKare is one of the eight start-ups involved in the Dubai 100 Bootcamp, taking place in Shanghai from 24-28 October this year. The week-long bootcamp selects young digital health entrepreneurs based around China and provides one-on-one mentoring and pitch advice, culminating in a final pitch where the winning team will receive US$10,000 and a trip to Dubai to engage with the city’s experts and ecosystem.

China’s health ecosystem is undergoing a renaissance with a new five-year roadmap from the government which calls for nation-wide reform across three main areas: infrastructure development, reduction of costs, and new investment. All will have massive benefits for stakeholders and industry players, from medical device firms to insurance companies. A sector that can straddle all three areas of reform, as well as apply to many types of stakeholder, is digital health.

Whether it be a tangible medical device such as a wearable thermometer, or a new platform to better connect doctors with patients, the impact of the sector is estimated to be worth US$60.8bn in 2013 and expected to reach $233bn by 2020. The Chinese market alone has the potential to be one of the biggest disruptors, with an estimated 2017 market worth of RMB125m (US$18.5m).

As for where Dubai fits into the picture: “Since the launch of the government innovation strategy, Dubai has proved it is really driving growth acrossall sectors – from Expo 2020 to Dubai Future Accelerators,” says Roland Daher, Head of Dubai 100 at Falcon and Associates . “Dubai 100 is one of the many initiatives in the city that support its innovation strategy, and is unique in that it is the only programme that specifically supports digital health.”

“There is a growth market in the arena of digital health, both in China and globally, that makes it interesting for Dubai to play a role in,” adds Genevieve Keeley, Director of Innovation and Learning at Falcon and Associates. Moreover, specific technologies presented during Dubai 100 could have significant applications to the UAE.

Take AmeSante, founded by Li Yang. Delivering remote blood pressure and blood glucose monitoring through automated algorithms, the app provides nutritional advice for those suffering from diabetes – pertinent for a country such as the UAE which suffers from a 19.3 per cent rate of diabetes among adults aged 20-79, according to the International Diabetes Federation. “The Middle East is definitely of interest to us as a market, so it’s so helpful to have mentors from that region," Yang notes. 

The multicultural aspect of the event was earmarked by many as being a vital touchstone of the programme, with mentors and judges from countries ranging from the US, Germany, the UK, and the UAE. As well as offering advice about the regulatory hurdles in launching in Europe, to give one example, those same mentors were also eager to learn about the current ecosystem in China from the young entrepreneurs. Synergies were recognised across borders, with emerging markets particularly identified as ‘ones to watch’ in terms of innovation in digital health.

“Although you see a lot of technological innovation coming out of the US, what’s exciting around emerging markets is they can be interesting testing grounds,” says Ali Hashemi, Co-Founder of Dubai-based healthcare investment firm Avicenna Partners and one of the Dubai 100 judges. “Regulatory obstacles may not exist in markets like these… Stakeholders have faster ways of approving technologies for testing, which allows start-ups to get traction faster.”

From finding test-beds for innovation, to overcoming regulatory obstacles, or even perfecting their pitching skills, the Dubai 100 participants have a long to-do list before gaining a foothold into the market. But though competing with one another for the final prize, their shared aim was clear to see – a marriage of technology and medicine that will increase efficiencies, prevent or cure disease, and ultimately, bring medicine closer to the patient.