Offline healthcare going online in MENA

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Not enough time for exercise? Perhaps apps might be of use. (Image via core0.staticworld.net)

Healthcare. An increasingly diverse and growing sector. From spas to fitness apps, to nutritional services, from physician search platforms to cardiac monitoring - it’s all there.

According to Deloitte’s 2015 Global health care outlook report  the market spending on healthcare is going to reach $9.3 trillion by 2018, globally.

In 2009 it was estimated that the UAE ‘wellness market’, that which pertains to services that address health before complications arise, and encouraging healthy lifestyle after a diagnosis, would be worth around $3 billion by 2015 - covering wellness products and services.

Wamda sat with two regional entrepreneurs who work in this domain to explain the opportunities and challenges in this field, and to discuss the future of this sector.

The Arab region, especially UAE, is no exception to the above. The recent years have witnessed a significant expansion in health resorts and spas.

When it comes to the MENA region, estimates for the GCC, at least, are that by 2020 healthcare is a market that will be worth $69 billion.

In order to learn a little more about a sector that is increasingly attracting startups Wamda spoke with the cofounder of The Wellness Log, Kareem Abou Gamrah, and Faisal Bashir, founder and CEO of FittPass, a platform facilitating memberships to gyms and spas.

New opportunities

Both Abou Gamrah (below) and Bashir (to the right) are in agreement that all the hype of the fitness and healthcare services are not a temporary trend.

Abou Gamra

People now generally are more cautious about their health and general lifestyle. To Abou Gamra, this is "a global movement", and to Bashir, it's "the only sector that can't be just a hype because it's as important as eating, drinking and breathing; a necessity."

Perhaps the most important opportunity offered by the healthcare sector is the fact that it has a such a large market that is relatively nascent.

"Our teams have been working in the fitness and health sector for nearly 15 years," Abou Gamra told Wamda. "And we can say that this market is a giant one. This sector, which we have barely begun to explore, has a lot of opportunities and spaces."

The Wellness Log was launched in Egypt in the late 2014, and has been a success to more than 200 participants. Thousands have also interacted on its blog and social media. The startup recently joined Flat6Labs accelerator in the UAE as part of its expansion plan, which includes Saudi Arabia.

Bachir

Abou Gamra told Wamda that is was because of the global rise in the number of nutritionists that they decided to stay away from gyms and focus on diet. "In the future, we plan to build another platform where nutritionists and trainers can use build and sell their own programs to their customers,” he said.

FittPass, on the other hand, was launched in May 2015 in Dubai, and has so far made it onto Forbes' Top 25 startups list. And with more than 300 offers available on the platform and around 35,000 cumulative visitors, it plans to expand to Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Beirut, Oman and Doha.

There is a number of facilities in the UAE willing to meet most the client's fitness needs, like CrossFit Box and numerous dance studios and cycling halls. But the value of FittPass, he says, is in giving users the flexibility of exercising whenever and wherever they want. This is done by searching for their desired exercises in accordance with their locations.

As well as the already existing market, technology has played its own role in the rise of the healthcare sector, said Abou Gamra. Unlike the natural development of other sectors, the internet and technology play an important part here are users are now ready to explore and test new services, which opens the way to new developments.

While fitness trackers and high-end gear are now more common, and APIs are getting better, it becomes easy to design a product that offers a comprehensive solution. No doubt the desire of people for improved fitness will lead them spend money to obtain their results, adds Abou Gamra.

A changing sector 

Abou Gamra believes that the healthcare sector’s growing dependence on technology causes it to change more quickly. This means a constant stream of new opportunities weekly. Within this lies the problem of validating credibility and adapting to it.

"The biggest problem facing entrepreneurs in this sector is that the threshold for a [good] user experience is very high because of competition,” he said. “So even if the idea is good, it needs to be well modulated so that the entrepreneur can have a chance."

He went on to state examples of those with good user experience, like Nike and FitBit, make them leaders in this domain, this drives the entrepreneurs' execution, product testing and features in general.  

The Wellness Log
It all depends on you. Forget the trainers or the tools. (Image via The Wellness Log)

From his perspective, Bashir believes that entrepreneurs are here to change a model that has been working well for a long time, and their largest challenge is that people resist change. "The challenge lies in convincing healthcare facilities to embrace the coming change," he told Wamda. "While most of them welcomed our idea, others take more time to accept this challenge."

In addition to that, motivating individuals to live a healthier, more active life is another challenge, "because of their fast-paced life, sports doesn't come as a priority."

Making change might be the toughest challenge for new players facing traditional ones. Nutritionists and trainers are The Wellness Log's biggest competitors, as the latter offers the same services but for a cheaper price, and replaces the personal relationship with a 24-hour online service ready to offer support and answer questions.

As for Bashir, he is aware of the competitors offering the same service, like GuavaPass, which offers additional restaurant and movie theater passes. "They are indirect competitors to us, because the price of a cinema ticket or restaurant plate equals one FittPass membership."

The future is bright though. Bashir believes the best is yet to come, and Abou Gamra believes that technology can only propel this sector forward, especially the Internet of Things (IoT). The best advice to entrepreneurs? Having a viable design for their product or service.

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