GE-Wamda study calls for building MENA’s startup ecosystem to address public healthcare challenges

Monday 30 May 2016

Dubai - MENA Herald: Local startups and advanced information & communication technologies (ICT) are ushering in a new digital healthcare system in the Middle East and North Africa that can help address significant challenges in healthcare, reveals a study by GE (NYSE: GE) and Wamda. However, there are still barriers to their growth, which must be addressed to fully unlock the potential of health entrepreneurship in the region.

The study titled ‘MENA’s Health Startups – Unlocking the Path to Scale & the Future of Healthcare’ was conducted by MEMakers, a partnership between GE and Wamda that aims to accelerate entrepreneurship across the MENA region. For the study, 120 interviews were conducted by Wamda Research Lab with the key players and entrepreneurs in MENA’s healthcare sector.

The full findings were unveiled today at the Hospital Build & Infrastructure Middle East Exhibition and Congress (Health Build 2016), being held from May 30 to June 1 at the Dubai International Convention Center. GE is supporting the startup ventures and other healthcare providers in the region to achieve their full potential and stronger business outcomes through its suite of advanced technologies and digital solutions showcased at the event.

The whitepaper reveals that Egypt and the UAE have the most startup activity in the healthcare sector, followed by Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Mobile Health (mHealth) and Connected Health (cHealth) are the most prevalent forms of digital health activity by the startups, followed by Health IT and digital hospitals, Digital Therapeutics, Health 2.0, Data & Analytics, and 3D Printing & Hardware.

This reflects the global growth trend recorded in the digital health market, which is set to increase to US$233 billion1 by 2020, a growth of 300 percent compared to US$61 billion in 2013. The growth in digital health solutions also meets the aspirations of the region’s youth with 48 percent of the region’s digitally active young people saying ICT should be used to improve quality, access, and costs in the region’s healthcare systems.
The study identifies that developing local startup activity in digital health is MENA’s significant opportunity to overcome supply and demand imbalances, and the rising cost of healthcare delivery, challenges led by population growth and the rising incidence of non-communicable diseases.

Local startups can also support the region to address high rates of youth unemployment by creating new jobs and creating a localized value supply chain in the healthcare sector, the study states. Further, the increase in entrepreneurial activity can reduce healthcare spend by governments, which is projected to increase to US$141 billion by 2020, outpacing global growth at 8.7 percent2.

Maher Abouzeid, President & CEO of GE Healthcare, Eastern Growth Markets said: “The MENA region has made significant strides in digital health led in part by startups, and we are supporting this growth through our advanced suite of technologies. This study aimed to understand the status of healthcare entrepreneurship, the challenges faced, and to propose recommendations that can leverage the true potential of a localized digital health ecosystem. With governments focusing on enhancing better patient outcomes through the increased participation of the private sector and advanced infrastructure enhancements, strengthening startups in digital health will be a significant driver in addressing the key challenges in public healthcare delivery. Through training initiatives for regional healthcare professionals and extending support to building a high-value local supply chain, we are committed to supporting regional startups in the healthcare sector.”

Habib Haddad, CEO of Wamda, said: “This is the largest collection of information on healthcare startups in the region, and it proposes practical first steps to grow the impact of private entrepreneurship, particularly in digital health, in the MENA region. The region’s startups can provide innovative health and economic solutions that are relevant to the local context that help improve the equality, increase the access and lower the costs of healthcare delivery. We are hopeful that the findings will encourage governments, corporates, incubators, accelerators and academic institutions to support the startups to achieve the next level of growth for the benefit of our communities.”

The paper has also found that several gaps limit the growth of the region’s health startups with 80 percent of those interviewed for the study citing limited availability of capital as a barrier to growth. Further, 41 percent reported difficulty in conducting clinical trials to prove their concept and 74 percent said they faced challenges in forming mutually beneficial partnerships.

Some 77 percent said growth is hampered due to the difficulty in finding the right people to hire while 57 percent cited opaque health regulations as holding back greater involvement in the industry by potential investors and partners.

The study continues with recommendations for potential partnerships and practical opportunities and first steps to fill these gaps to accelerate the growth of health entrepreneurship in the region. These include the role of corporations to enlist financial and in-kind resources to support health startups, and that of hospitals in providing entrepreneurial space for prototyping, testing and commercializing the startup technology innovations.

A physician-curated crowdsourcing platform can help seed fund MENA’s health startups, while incubators and accelerators can refine the concepts early on. Medical schools can equip physicians to communicate the benefits of digital health to patients, in turn, supporting the startups.

The report also states that advancements in 3D printing, material sciences and quantum computing will lower the barriers to entry for innovators and entrepreneurs, while the coming-of-age of mHealth in MENA will inspire the world to take note of the region’s ability to foster practical methods for delivering widespread advancements in healthcare.

GE and Wamda have joined hands to grow the network of entrepreneurs across the region working on industrial technologies. The goal is to promote, support, and connect those communities. They have launched a microsite ( that serves as an online destination to connect and strengthen dialogue on entrepreneurship between aspiring entrepreneurs and professionals.

Top Observations
Egypt and the UAE have most startup health activity in the MENA region followed by Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia
mHealth and cHealth are most prevalent forms of digital health activity
Entrepreneurs can help catalyze advanced, localized healthcare solutions in the MENA region
Most health startups focused on offering greater transparency and access to information
Nearly 48% of the startups in the study have potential to serve people around the world
48% of MENA’s digitally active young people (aged 15 to 35) say ICT should be used to improve quality, access, and costs in the region’s healthcare sector
61 startups interviewed employ 600 people; 16% plan to hire more people this year
49% startups have secured investment – 21% backed by venture capital, 15% obtained follow-on funding, and 11 have raised over US$1 million

Key barriers for health startups
80% of startups in the study cited limited availability of capital as barrier to growth
41% have difficulty testing and conducting clinical trials to develop their concept
74% experience challenges in forming partnerships
77% experience difficulties in finding the right people to hire, especially those with experience in healthcare
57% are adversely affected by opaque governmental regulations that hold back greater involvement of potential investors
69% cite low consumer buy-in for digital health solutions, underlining need to promote awareness of digital health technologies

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