Dance, curries spice up drive for India health boost

Israeli, Indian entrepreneurs join forces in hackathon to tackle healthcare challenges of India’s poor

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Pear's India Hackathon 22-24 July 2016 (Courtesy Sára Salamon Photography)
Pear's India Hackathon 22-24 July 2016 (Courtesy Sára Salamon Photography)

Amid Bollywood music and dancing, mouthwatering curries and masalas, more than 600 innovators, entrepreneurs and healthcare professionals in four cities, in Israel and India, took part in a hackathon aimed at resolving health challenges for India’s poor.

Some 100 teams in Tel Aviv, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore spent 36 hours together, face-to-face and online, and came up with ideas including a toothbrush that detects anemia, mobile phone applications to monitor the food intake of infants, and a smart pillbox to remind patients to take their tuberculosis medication.

The India Israel Affordable Healthcare Hackathon, which ran for three days in the four cities and ended on Sunday night, was organized by the Pears Program for Global Innovation, which is run by the Tel Aviv University. The program is a partner of OLAM, an organization promoting global Jewish service and international development.

The aim of the hackathon was to expose Israeli technology to the challenges of developing markets and turn the attention of Israeli entrepreneurs to the potential that Africa and India hold for their products. There are over 1,000 startups in the healthcare sector in Israel but most of them target the US and European markets.

“The best teams of the hackathon will be invited to join the Pears Challenge year-long fellowship program for outstanding Israeli innovators who want to develop technologies to address the health care needs of poor people in India,” Aliza Belman Inbal, director of the Pears Program, said by phone. “The hackathon was an amazing first step in this journey. We hope to create a pipeline of commercial ventures that deal with these problems.”

The Indian winning teams will get placed at a parallel program in India, the Pears program said.

The teams had to tackle pressing health problems by finding, among other challenges: an anemia diagnostic test for young girls; a technological solution to monitor food and milk intake among infants; screening and diagnosis solutions for hearing impairment; real-time monitoring devices for pregnant women in remote areas; a way to manage the side effects of chemotherapy in remote areas; improved access to funding for cancer treatments and a technology driven-solution to give psychological counseling for cancer patients by connecting them to doctors and counselors.

Pear's India Hackathon, July 22-24, 2016 (Courtesy Sára Salamon Photography)
Pear’s India Hackathon, July 22-24, 2016 (Courtesy Sára Salamon Photography)

Being exposed to these challenges was a “huge gift” for the Israeli teams, which face the challenge of not only finding solutions but being aware of the challenges, said Saul Singer, bestselling co-author of the book “Start-up Nation,” at the event.

More than 80 Israeli participants spent 36 hours at the Google Campus in Tel Aviv addressing nine challenges that were posed by Indian foundations, hospitals, and other partners, seeking ways to provide telemedicine, diagnostics and monitoring solutions for vulnerable populations in rural areas in India who do not have easy access to doctors or health centers.

Pear's India Hackathon, July 22-24, 2016 (Courtesy Sára Salamon Photography)
Pear’s India Hackathon, July 22-24, 2016 (Courtesy Sára Salamon Photography)

The Israeli teams received support from more than 50 industry mentors spread across India and Israel via face-to-face and online sessions throughout the festive weekend, which was sprinkled with celebrations of Indian culture — from Bollywood dance sessions to Indian meals to yoga sessions to music.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship are areas that both India and Israel have great talent, but we need to bring them together and do more,” Indian Ambassador to Israel Pavan Kapoor said at the opening of the event in Tel Aviv. “The challenges for healthcare in India are amazing and enormous. We have excellent healthcare and it’s also very affordable by Western standards, but it is not necessarily accessible for a number of people particularly in remote and rural areas in India. And that’s where I think you could really come up with solutions.”

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