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Infusion of Startup Innovation could Enliven Healthcare in MENA

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), you might not immediately consider the healthcare industry – dominated as it is by the government sector – fertile ground for startups. But a just released white paper finds that the regional healthcare market is primed for the kind innovation that entrepreneurship brings.

In the context of a MENA healthcare market growing faster than the global average and set to be worth US$144 billion by 2020, the study identifies four forces that make healthcare an attractive focus for MENA startups. Firstly, rising public health problems, especially non-communicable diseases (NCDs) will pressure MENA governments to find new ways of delivering high-quality, low-cost healthcare. Secondly, the region’s established healthcare players will begin to see the benefits of sourcing innovation by partnering with young private health companies.

The third force is coming through advancements in 3D printing, materials sciences, and quantum computing that will lower the barriers to entry for inventors and entrepreneurs who are seeking to create advanced healthcare solutions. Fourthly, mobile health is coming of age in the region and globally, and could soon foster dispersed, practical methods for delivering widespread advancements in healthcare.

The report, titled “MENA’s Health Startups: Unlocking the path to scale & the future of healthcare,” was produced by Wamda Research Lab as part of the MEMakers initiative: a partnership between GE and Wamda to support and enable the region’s industrial entrepreneurship movement.

Representing the largest-ever collection of information on MENA healthcare startups and their supporting ecosystem in the region, the white paper interviewed more than 120 entrepreneurs, thought leaders, investors, and incubators, accelerators active in the sector.

The 61 startups surveyed are all relatively new, with the study finding only 10% are more than five years old; 55% launched over the past three years, and 30% are in their first year of operation.

The startups surveyed employ roughly 600 people in the region, and 16% indicated plans to hire more in 2016, according to the report,

The study also found that Egypt and the UAE have the most active healthcare startup scenes in MENA, followed by Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Among solutions under development, mHealth (Mobile Health) and cHealth (Connected Health) solutions are the most prevalent, followed by Health IT (HIT) and digital hospitals, Digital Therapeutics (DT), Health2.0, Data & Analytics (D&A), and 3D Printing and Hardware.

Most of MENA’s health startups are focused on offering greater transparency and access to information for consumers, and startups are in the very early stages of enabling patients and providers to remotely capture health and wellness insights from wearable devices and personal data.

Nearly half (48%), of the startups in the study have the potential to serve people around the world, given that they address universal healthcare problems. They also are explicitly targeting markets in multiple continents, and are linguistically and/or culturally inclusive.

The report identifies five opportunities to boost the healthcare startup ecosystem: enlist financial and in-kind resources from corporations for growing strategically aligned health startups; hospitals and clinics could offer an “entrepreneurial space” within their operations for prototyping, testing, validating, and commercializing healthcare breakthroughs; create a physician curated crowdfunding platform for seed-funding MENA’s health startups; enable entrepreneurs to partner for iterating and refining concepts and models through incubators and accelerators; and train doctors while still in medical school to communicate the benefits of digital health to their patients.

GE is a long-term supporter of startup ecosystems across the MENA region. In addition to the MEMakers microsite that profiles local startups and shares insights around the local entrepreneurial ecosystem, GE also hosted a “mutual mentorship” program with Wamda that paired 10 MENA startups with 20 GE employees to learn from each other. GE also extensively deploys GE’s Advanced Manufacturing GE Garages workshops and training sessions in countries across the region.

Business: Healthcare

Country: Middle East, North Africa

Keywords: Entrepreneur, MEMakers, Startup, Wamda, White Paper