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India-Israel relations strengthen with the success of Startup Hackathon

Innovators, entrepreneurs, and health care professionals unite to respond to challenges plaguing India's healthcare sector

Published: Jul 26, 2016 04:40:11 PM IST
Updated: Jul 26, 2016 04:56:34 PM IST
India-Israel relations strengthen with the success of Startup Hackathon
Image: facebook.com/Israeldevnetwork/
A bi-nation hackathon in Hyderabad

In a three day summit that took place across four cities from India to Israel, innovators, entrepreneurs, and health care professionals united to respond to challenges plaguing India’s healthcare sector.

The event, Med4Dev, took place in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderbad, and Tel Aviv. Whereas the word ‘hackathon’ often refers to a competition to create a technology simply to win a prize, this was by no means a standard hackathon. The event also represented a stride for the two thriving economies to work together to develop technologies that will aid the poor and middle class.

According to NASSCOM Vice President Shivendra Singh, Israel’s economy represents a culture of unparalleled innovation. "The country’s spending on R&D as a percentage of its GDP is the highest at 4.2 per cent compared to 2.4 per cent of Japan and 2.8 per cent of the US," he said. With this announcement, it seems obvious that Israel can bolster India’s growing economic clout.

Over the course of the competition, teams had access to leading mentors from organisations such as the Naandi foundation, Intellecap, and Infosys. Though the official event was held July 22-24, 2016, the mentorship extends for far longer than the thirty-six hour experience. The most promising ventures were awarded Rs One Lakh and a spot in a forty-five mentorship programme. More than 1,000 individuals participated in the competition.

The competition featured two tracks: challenge and adaptation. In the challenge track, teams tackled one of nine issues broached by some of Indians leading health care organizations. In the adaptation track, already existing Israeli startups worked with Indian investors to adapt their products to India. Winning teams were awarded a spot in a forty-five day accelerator programme.

Some of the winning solutions included an Israeli app for diagnosis of hearing impairment, and an Indian led cloud based anemia tracker. Among other solutions in the runner-up category were a toothbrush that detects anemia and an app that monitors an infant’s food intake.

Planning for the hackathon began back in July of 2015 when the Pears Program for Global Innovation began collaboration efforts with well-known Indian startup incubators and investors.

“We were tired of seeing horrible realities on TV at home. Instead we wanted to see answers for challenging problems people were facing day-in and day-out. It was about time Israel used its abilities to make an impact,” said Hilly Hirt, deputy director for the Pears programme.

Though not mandatory, individuals were encouraged to attend the hackathon with a solution to a specific challenge during the thirty-six hour competition.

“We are building a strategic infrastructure through this program of facilitation,” added Hirt. “It is all about delivering. We want to not just create ideas but to effect solutions. We wanted to create a relationship where if there existed a brilliant Israeli product, the innovator could pick up the phone and with no introductions or small talk adapt the solution to fit a challenge facing India.”

Israel has long been coveted as the “startup-nation,” boasting a unique cultural climate that encourages the emergence of fledgling companies. With new technologies surfacing too frequently to track, the country trails only Silicon Valley in its technological innovation. With health-care startups in Israel abound, these startup pundits knew something could be done, but lacked both funding and the intimate knowledge of the Indian economy. The Pears program wanted to mend that, and created a tie that both countries were hungry for.

"There is a unique opportunity for Indian companies to partner with their Israeli counterparts to establish a mutually beneficial association," said Nasscom, President, R Chandrashekhar. "We are looking at collaborative opportunities with innovative companies based out of Israel and possible partnerships that can scale up operations for companies on both sides," he added.

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