This was a question posed to a panel of healthcare innovators at the Health XL Global Gathering in Dublin yesterday. (I am a mentor in the Health XL program, which is why I attended).
Outside of the presentations by the 7 teams that had been through the program, this question and the discussion that followed really made me think about the future.
Naturally, when it comes to tech and launching your startup, Silicon Valley has been the place to be for decades. However, when it comes to Digital Health, could the Silicon Valley be somewhere else? At Health XL, we heard from ClaimSync (Ghana), NurseBuddy (Finland), Sense of Skin (Ireland), GoAct (Australia), Evinance (Canada), Nutritics (Ireland), myMedScore (USA). That's right, 6 out of the 7 startups were from OUTSIDE the USA.
After listening to a passionate presentation by ClaimSync from Ghana, I'm starting to think that Africa may well be one of the places that will lead the world in Digital Health during the 21st century.
At the inaugral DEMO-Africa conference in October 2012, one attendee said "Mobile is changing Africa, and Africa is going to change mobile". The link takes you an article that features a 20 minute video from DEMO-Africa, which I highly recommend viewing.
Then there is the Konza Techno city project in Kenya which aims to serve as a world-class IT hub with the goal of creating 100,000 jobs by 2030. Controversially, some have branded Nairobi, Kenya as "Silicon Savannah".
Not to be outdone, Ghana's "Hope City" aims to create jobs for 50,000 people.
Innovation from unexpected places
The world is changing, from a unipolar world, to a multipolar world. I've seen that with my own eyes as I took a 6 month round the world trip in 2010 (Something I highly recommend to expand your horizons). An example of this, is that my cousin who lives in Kolkata, India got got access to 4G mobile technology BEFORE London, where I live. When we think about places like Kolkata, we normally think of Mother Teresa, slums and poverty. In the 21st century, the pace of innovation and adoption of new technologies in places like Kolkata is often much faster than London, Berlin or Palo Alto.
Importing innovation from developing nations?
Furthermore, the Digital Health solutions being developed in the developing world, are more likely to be 'sustainable', since the innovation has been born out of necessity. A few wise healthcare leaders in the US and Europe have already recognised that many technological solutions to our problems in healthcare will have to be imported from poorer countries. This strikes me as a superb opportunity for entrepreneurs living in those countries. It's also throws up opportunities for investors and corporations who are looking for the next big thing.
Startups no longer for the privileged few
The rise in crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo illustrate the democratization of raising funds for your startup. If you have an idea, and are on the internet, you can tap into the personal resources and networks of 7 billion people. At the risk of using a cliche, that is a game changer. The barriers to launching a startup have decreased considerably over the years. I hear many people at Healthcare Innovation events proclaiming, "It's never been a better time to be an entrepreneur in Healthcare". I wholeheartedly agree.
If you're interested in understanding the future of Digital Health in the 21st century, it almost seems like a no-brainer to explore the startup scene in Africa. Who knows, perhaps we will bump into each other at Demo-Africa 2013? (I've never been to Africa, and this event seems a great reason to head out there).