Beyond Silicon Valley: a new wave of Chinese startups looking to enact real change

The final of the Dubai 100 Bootcamp in Shanghai showed the philanthropic nature of a new wave of Chinese digital health entrepreneurs 

In just thirty-two minutes, a selection of eight young Chinese entrepreneurs showed a selection of devices and theories that could potentially have ramifications for digital health worldwide.

As the finalists of a digital health pre-accelerator programme, Dubai 100, it was expected that the talent pool would bring fresh thinking to this sector.

However, over the course of each of their four-minute speeches, it became apparent that their pursuit of the grand prize, which involved US$10,000 of equity-free funding and a trip to Dubai, was anything but mercenary.

The winner was Huang Jiliang, of Beijing-based startup Modoo. With a vision of alleviating expectant mothers’ anxiety about the health of their unborn baby, he and his team created the smallest fetus-monitoring patch in the world, which uses passive (non-ultrasound) technology to monitor and records fetal heart rates and movement.

I can honestly say that there aren’t many accelerators out there that put so much effort into supporting their startups

Verena Kretschmann, co-founder of Anvajo and Dubai 100 mentor

The weight of an earphone cord, the device also records health data of mothers-to-be, such as maternal heart rate, step count, sleep quality and breath rate.

Also commended were AméSanté and Healthme, who were offered places on the pre-accelerator after impressing the judging panel. They will join teams selected from around the world on a 100-day pre-accelerator in Dubai to unlock global opportunities through clinical trials, investment and partnerships.

Before the pitch contest, eight participating start-ups underwent five weeks of intensive virtual one-on-one workshops, culminating in a week-long bootcamp in Shanghai, where the entrepreneurs worked closely with expert mentors to prepare for the pitch challenge.

During that time, talk was not of becoming the ‘next big thing’, or breaking into Silicon Valley.

Instead, participants talked about their families. A relative with diabetes struggling to track their blood glucose levels; a pregnant wife anxious about her baby; a grandfather that needed rehabilitative care after a stroke.

Dubai 100 Shanghai digital health startups
Huang Jiliang was founder of the winning startup Modoo, which caters to expectant mothers

Coupled with their desire to do good the participants showed raw talent that, with the right guidance, could pose an interesting opportunity for those looking to get involved, commented mentors.

“It was an interesting opportunity to get to know the Chinese ecosystem,” said Verena Kretschmann, a previous graduate of the Dubai 100 programme. As cofounder of German startup Anvajo, which provides at-home medical testing, the company has undergone significant progress since their participation in the programme, undergoing a validation trial in Abu Dhabi with a fertility clinic – and showing the Chinese entrepreneurs the possibilities of their endeavours.

“A bootcamp like this exposes you to many different opinions from people in many different roles, in different industries – which is great, because it makes you wonder about things you hadn’t previously considered.

“At the same time, people are coming from different markets and can give knowledge on different healthcare systems in those markets. Especially in the case of Dubai 100: I can honestly say that there aren’t many accelerators out there that put so much effort into supporting their startups.

“It’s really about dedicating the time to take them from one step to another, which is admirable, and also as a mentor – just a whole lot of fun.”