Silicon Valley’s Plug and Play to establish MENA's first health accelerator in Abu Dhabi

The firm is aiming to bring over two to three dozen promising global healthcare start-ups to Abu Dhabi

Dr. Asma Al Mannaei, director of healthcare quality division at DoH Abu Dhabi and Babak Ahmadzadeh, director Play and Plug ADGM (2nd from L) while announcing the launch of health start-up accelerator  on Tuesday.
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Plug and Play, the global tech accelerator that counts Google, PayPal and Dropbox among its investments, has joined forces with Abu Dhabi’s Department of Health to establish the Middle East and North Africa region's first health start-up accelerator.

Under this programme, the Silicon Valley-headquartered technology accelerator — in partnership with Abu Dhabi Global Market — will select potential health start-ups from around the world and link them with leading healthcare service providers in the UAE.

"The idea is to create a unified and collaborative platform that will be welcoming for global tech healthcare start-ups," Babak Ahmadzadeh, director of Play and Plug ADGM, told The National.

“If there is a problem or a tech issue, then the local healthcare company can source the solution from the start-up … saving time and resources. It will also help start-ups to scale and build their business.”

Many health start-ups like Egypt’s Vezeeta, Morocco’s Dabadoc and UAE’s Okadoc have already found some success in the region. Vezeeta, which helps customers find the right doctor, has recently raised $12 million in Series C funding.

The annual value of the medical technology market in the Middle East is predicted to grow to $11 billion by 2021, according to a report from Middle East Medical Devices and Diagnostics, a trade association.

The Abu Dhabi-based accelerator, whose name will be decided in the coming weeks, will go live in the first quarter of 2020, said Mr Ahmadzadeh.

Plug and Play ADGM will look to bring over two to three dozen promising global healthcare start-ups to Abu Dhabi within next two years, he added.

Plug and Play, one of the biggest accelerators in the world, opened its office in ADGM in October 2017 after signing a partnership with the international finance centre to bring financial technology start-ups to the capital.

Currently, it is running two accelerator programmes in the Mena region — FinTech (launched in March 2018) and Travel and Hospitality (launched in February 2018).

“We are looking to attract start-ups from across the globe to take part in solving current healthcare challenges by finding a way of technology solutions,” said Dr. Asma Al Mannaei, director of healthcare quality division at Abu Dhabi's Department of Health.

Healthcare providers say this programme could help to solve long-running issues in the sector.

"This programme will put us in the middle of a network where we can spot new and interesting tech ideas," Jeff Kemprecos, director of government affairs at GlaxoSmithKline Gulf, told The National.

GSK Gulf, one of the world's biggest pharmaceutical firms, spends nearly $6 billion on research and development annually.

"Despite spending a huge amount on R&D, we have to acknowledge that 95 per cent of all innovations are taking place outside the company … so we want to plug-in with [the] right tech ideas," Mr Kemprecos added.