Roland Daher: Dubai is a powerful catalyst for startups from established markets

In a series of blogs on the future of health technology, Roland Daher, Head of Dubai 100, explains the opportunities in Dubai for digital health disruptors

Today, Dubai 100 hosted a meetup with startups tackling healthcare challenges at Dubai Future Accelerators. Between the two programmes 15 startups and more than 40 founders from around the world spent a high-energy morning exchanging perspectives on healthcare and their journeys in Dubai.

This has been one of many such meetups over the past few weeks, with events like Arab Health and the MSD Innovation Factory Finals bringing healthcare innovations from around the world to Dubai – all drawn to the city’s energy and the opportunities it provides.

Healthcare worldwide is ripe for disruption, from operational efficiency to patient experience; prevention to rehabilitation. One hindrance to innovation is the fact that small technology startups, which have so successfully disrupted other industries, are unable to access industry stakeholders. In a sector where innovation must come from within, potential disruptors often work in siloes and struggle to translate inventions into impact.

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Roland Daher speaking at the Dubai 100 meetup with Dubai Future Accelerator

Dubai is offering an alternative. Its strategic focus on healthcare and innovation, as part of the UAE’s 2021 Vision, is creating a strong impetus to break down barriers between innovators and institutes in order to drive excellence.

The resulting ‘trickle down’ effect is the opening up of access across the city’s healthcare sector. On the one hand the government is pushing to accelerate its relationships with tech-driven startups, through platforms like Dubai Future Accelerators. On the other hand the innovation mindset is also encouraging the private sector, from big multinationals such as GE, to regional and local hospital groups, to open up and seek out opportunities to work with startups.

Less tangible, but still impactful, is a culture of embracing new ideas and people, and a will to make ‘the impossible possible’. Dubai’s openness both explains, and is a result of, its phenomenal growth, its celebrated Arab hospitality, and its uniquely diverse population of around 200 nationalities.

These combined factors create significant opportunities for innovation across a number of levels. Primarily, open access to industry supports early validation of a startup’s concept, product-market fit and business model.

As a healthcare entrepreneur in Dubai you may feasibly have the chance to meet with five or 10 hospitals in a very short period of time, even if you are a relative newcomer to the UAE – an opportunity you are unlikely to find in more established regions such as Europe. What’s more, in one Dubai hospital you will meet managers, clinicians and patients from diverse markets around the world so that, in a single visit, validations and connections can be made with, for example, the US, India, Australia, and Dubai.

Early validation, if achieved, can lead quickly to early traction as the same openness that enables entrepreneurs to test their ideas propels them forward as momentum builds – opening networks to access both emerging markets via Belt-and-Road and South-South connections, and developed economies to the west.

This is what we have seen with past and current Dubai 100 entrepreneurs. They come to Dubai, often struggling against slow-moving mature markets, and are able to make a big leap forward and open doors to markets in this region and around the world.

Of course, not all concepts or products will be validated – if common knowledge says nine out of 10 startups fail, the success rate is even worse in healthcare. But, by connecting with the market earlier, entrepreneurs can challenge their assumptions and, in some cases, make difficult but critical time-, money-, and business-saving pivots. 

Ultimately, designing solutions hand-in-hand with the industry is the only way forward if we want to see new technologies impacting patient experiences and outcomes. It is by creating an environment open to disruption and collaboration with the rest of the world that Dubai provides unique opportunities for healthcare innovation with global impact.