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Opportunities and Market Entry to Dubai and the Middle East

September 22, 2021
by Healthcare World

Patience, perseverance and partnerships are the key, HW Editor Sarah Cartledge discovers

Following on from our hugely successful ‘main stage’ session on healthcare in the region, this breakout session provided attendees with an understanding of ‘where to go next’ in terms of setting up in the region and particularly Dubai.

Dr Mazin Gadir ,Director of Strategic Partnerships, Bid Management & Client Relationships at IQVIA Middle East & Africa, Dr Niti Pall, Global Medical Director KPMG’s Global Health Practice, Marwan Abdulaziz, Managing Director at Dubai Science Park, and Vincent Buscemi, Partner and Head of Independent Health and Social Care at Bevan Brittan, provided invaluable advice to UK and other companies looking to enter the potentially lucrative Middle East market.

The audience of just under 1000 attendees were treated to the insider’s guide to market entry. Niti Pall began by stressing the importance of understanding local systems and mechanics before deciding that your solution is the right one for the region. She spoke about the vibrant private sector but also the importance of the public health sector and the interplay between the two.

The combination of different factors driving growth in demand, particularly the rapid rise of digitisation in the past 12 months, has led to remote consultation and monitoring, and the growth in the use of AI in the field. It provides excellent opportunities for UK medtech companies to work in both the public and private sectors, according to lawyer Vincent Buscemi.

He also noted that the Middle East is now facing the same issues as other countries, such as an ageing population and increased life expectancy, while lifestyle choices are creating a surge in non-communicable diseases (NCDs). There is also greater emphasis on wellness and prevention rather than responding to sickness, providing opportunities for new models of care and services. A shortage of workers and skills has led to overreliance on expatriate healthcare workers, so there are further opportunities for upskilling and training.

With his additional roles as a PwC healthcare advisor and also with Cerna’s digital health transformation in the region, Dr Mazin Gadir highlighted the importance of value-based care, associated care systems reimbursement, shared risks and contracts between payers, providers and regulators.

Universal Health Coverage or UHC is becoming the regional trend, he said, and commented on the importance of local supply chains, procurement and capabilities. He cited the example of Africa’s vaccine supplies that were immediately impacted once the scale of the pandemic in India became apparent, and the need to secure and produce local supplies of vaccines.

Preparing to enter the market

The panel went on to discuss the various ways to enter the market, either directly or with the aid of consultancies who are embedded in the region. The key is to have the right partners on the ground, so networking and partnerships are crucial.

Accelerators such as Harbr scan start-ups to make sure they are in the right position for market entry. “We look at the product, localise it, and identify how to commercialise it,” said Niti Pall. “We also introduce to the right docking stations, the right providers, distributors and also the government which is the biggest distributor of healthcare. In addition we also have a big network of investors in the Middle East, London and other places.”

At this juncture, working with the right legal entity is also vital. At Bevan Brittan they prefer to come in early to help clients negotiate the tricky waters of different cultures and business environments. “Most clients come without understanding what entering the market will entail”, said Vincent Buscemi. “We revisit the market research to narrow down the model they want to follow as each comes with different solutions and ultimately differing processes.”

The initial debate can be around whether to opt for a free zone or to stay local. “It depends on whether you want to work with a healthcare authority or have a regional business,” said Dubai Science Park MD Marwan Abdulaziz. “Because the UAE is a small country, most would say start in UAE or Saudi Arabia and then go to other countries. The free zone model gives more flexibility than the local model and from 1 June most sectors can be owned 100 per cent by foreigners. This levels the playing field for the free zones and the mainland, and puts pressure on the free zones to offer more. However, if your business is healthcare services then opting for local makes a lot of sense, but if you have tech and want to expand I would say free zones would be much better.”

Dubai Science Park is the region’s first free zone community that serves the entire value chain of the science, health and pharma sectors, fostering an environment that supports research, creativity, innovation and passion, ensuring a supportive ecosystem for businesses to establish sustainable and positive change.

Founded in 2005 it currently has more than 400 business partners with 3,600 professionals. Incorporating hotels, schools, residential areas as well as warehouses, retail and healthcare, it’s one of the foremost areas for companies to base themselves, especially tech and start-ups.

“We want to help companies throughout their journey and we have built our park around this concept. We do two things – hardware and software. We invest in infrastructure that is fit for companies and we look at the value chain from R&D to manufacturing to distribution and storage, and end with offices for marketing – an investment around $500m.

‘With software companies, we introduce them to other companies for joint ventures, local manufacturing, or testing capabilities. We also help with discussions with the regulators, and we can connect to investors if needed. I’m proud to say this has resulted in more than 400 companies being part of the Dubai Science Park,” Marwan concluded.

Accessing investment

Investment is much more than about money; it’s also about partners supporting your growth with knowledge and contacts. “Going into the market with an understanding of what you’re trying to achieve and who can help you is hugely important,” said Vincent Buscemi. “Speak to the experts and make the connections who know where the money is. You can waste a lot of time if their investment criteria is completely unknown to you, so at Bevan Brittan we facilitate introductions to investment houses because we understand who companies should be talking to.”

Niti Pall stressed that many start-ups trying to access capital don’t target it. “There is a vibrant investment community in the UAE, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, but you need to understand their investment strategy. For example, biotech is becoming really big on the back of test and trace. The investors feel it is very tangible so they are investing much more in it.”

“There has been a shift in investment away from bricks and mortar to improving efficiency in services and digital health,” added Marwan Abdulaziz. “Governments will support if they like the idea, but it depends on where you are in your life cycle and what kind of partner you have.”

Conclusion

Entering the Middle East market is a process that pays dividends if you put the work in at the start. “Take early advice and don’t wait until you think you’ve nailed all the answers,” was key for Vincent Buscemi. He also stressed the importance of understanding the market, selecting partners carefully, understanding practice and customs, being aware of yourself and body language, and understanding how your hosts expect you to behave and communicate.

According to Mazin Gadir there are many Middle East opportunities in the next six months as the world approaches recovery. He emphasised patience, perseveration and relationships as key to success, while Niti Pall advised speaking to people who have already done it to learn as much as possible. For Marwan, the goal is to find your niche and competitive edge.

Finally, it’s about understanding the need and finding the advocates. The most important allies are the Dubai Health Authority, the Dubai Science Park and the British embassy which also has many links to key contacts in the region. Then you can take the plunge and reap the rewards.

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