Why is it that some people have the urge to ask questions whose answers are so obvious the question is almost rhetorical? Getting on a train to Amsterdam Schipol, I asked the man opposite me if the train is really going to Schipol and luckily for me he didn’t respond: “No, the sign on the platform says “Amsterdam Schipol” because the Dutch tourism authority like to trick people into getting on the wrong train and visiting otherwise unknown villages.
No big deal, you say, there’s nothing wrong in confirming. But no one else on this train did it. Writing this blog on the very same train I can’t help but reflect on why i asked the stupid question. The countries where I’ve lived (England, India, Spain, Zambia) often have the wrong platform information or a delayed train sitting where it's not supposed to be and yes I have gotten on the wrong train once (okay, maybe several times under the influence). There is nothing better than having a service conductor at the door to reassure conspiracy theorist paranoid passengers like myself. In fact, train conductors or station conductors on platforms in England are often hogged but the same question: “does this train really go where it says its going? ”. In our digital age, no doubt, there is an app to take care of this.
It may sound obvious but culture really plays an important part in the impact we create on our society. I’m in Holland this week (still part of my Europe wide whirlwind tour of entrepreneurs and investors) to hear from expert investors how to export smart health solutions to China. Startups also pitched during a Pecha Kulcha (nothing to do with sushi like I once assumed) to see if they could be the lucky ones to enter China. By 2020, 1 in 5 people will be over 65. This is a nightmare for a country that is not prepared for this change and it's a "silver mine” (sorry for the pun) for European startups fed up with our heterogeneous system, its regulation, its bureaucracy and struggling to scale.
But is it really?
According to Brian O’Connor and Mark Ennis, investors with tons of experience in China, its not as simple as, translate your app into Mandarin and then you have a 2bn x 0.99€ revenue. Brian, who began travelling to Hong Kong in the early 90s every two weeks still refuses to call himself an expert on China. Yet he will tell you need to find a partner and a distributor, earn their trust and work with them on the ground to deploy your solution. Sounds like hard work? Well there’s always help...
Jumo Group in Shanghai, a company that helps you find export opportunities in China, says it is very hard to enter the Chinese market but if you're willing to go the distance, there is opportunity. Jumo works like an entrepreneurial firm that finds you customers until you achieve the sales you want to and the targets you set: capturing clients and, like William Klique their Co-founder says, making money. When, he hands me his business card, he does so in both hands and with a little bow. “You need to understand their culture and customs. In China it would be difficult to expect a 65+ to use smart phone because many for the elderly still listen to radios”. So how on earth (or in China) could AAL solutions breach the Chinese market?
Well, just because they listen to their radios doesn't mean they don’t need care. The consequences on China’s one child policy (which recently ended) means that parents have to rely on their other relatives (uncles, aunts) sometimes neighbours. Although, as William explains, China is going the route of nursing homes and institutionalised care (something Europe is trying very hard to move away from) there are still gaps for those that live in remote areas.
The elderly in many situations live away from their only child, who works in the city, and can’t be with them immediately. So there is an opportunity for telemedicine. (Sometimes I can't help but feel that the concept of telemedicine would work so much better in places like China and India because citizens hardly see their doctors. So an SMS asking how you are today, makes a deeper impact there than it does (and did in the last decade) in Europe.)
Sure, the access and usability will be an uphill struggle. Plug and play it is not but consumer demand will ultimately prevail. One of the med tech devices featured on our Pecha Kulcha pitches at the is a stroke monitor. “there is no one who needs that more than the one child who every one depends on”, says Stephen Henderson, Commercial Director at Intelesens (http://www.intelesens.com/inhomemonitoring/index.html), whose heart monitor device is a non-invasive vital signs monitor, recently approved by the FDA. I don't know about China but I do know that when I go home to India, it would take me at least 20mins to the nearest hospital when there is no traffic. And there is no such thing as an empty road in India!
Our last stop of the day was at a community/training centre, Neunen (near Eindhoven), where I meet Frans Stravers, International business director of TKH care group. First of all, this is no ordinary community centre: in fact, I'm now writing this I'm not even sure it was a community centre. There were students there, attending courses, so I think it was also a school. At least thats what I deduced when I got lost looking for the bathroom. However we had our meeting in a type of community centre-ish place. Open plan, it was furnished with a dining table, kitchen, waiting area and even a pool table, but one without any holes (turns out it was a Caroms Billiards table and donated by someone). So here we were listening to Frans, talking about their platform VieDome that connects care applications from other vendors to provide a holistic solution for the elderly, while around us young students were cooking. Lunch. Students were cooking lunch for us and some elderly people who began to arrive one by one, almost on cue as the table was laid. I forgot I was in a meeting. Turns out the centre is also a training grounds for students who have difficulty in school. These students take a basic first caregiving course and this gives them passage onto more difficult tiers of the same course. One of the students, Nikki, tells us in her, broken but perfectly understandable English, that what she enjoys the most is solving problems for the elderly. Like how to use an iPad. The rest of the conversations are in Dutch. But thats ok, William and I enjoy the fancy grub. I chat to Jos, sitting next to me. I'd guess he was about 60 and I'm not sure why he's here because he looks perfectly healthy. Jos tells me he likes to collect stamps and his most sought after stamp is one from the Vatican. I think I can help you get one through my (Holy!) contacts, I say and get out my phone so he can type in his name and address for me. But he preferred to write using a pen and paper because he couldn't keep his hands steady and needed his 5 inch think glasses. I make a mental note NOT to assume everyone is mobile friendly.
After bidding farewell (and losing my way to the bathroom) I arrive at Schipol only to find that my flight operator, Iberia, is not featured anywhere on the departures tables. I have a fear: is my flight not today? Is it not from schipol? is this why the Iberia site wouldn’t let me check-in online? is it cancelled? Iberia is notorious for poor service and I am notorious to book really cheap without thinking of anything else. A quick glance at my email confirmation tells me yes…I’m definitely in the right place, right time. It's here but the only company flying to Barcelona today is Vueling. Isn’t that a subsidiary of Iberia?…i take a chance to walk up there. And yes, I'm right. Being English its customary to grumble and mutter how terrible it is that it doesn’t say anywhere that Iberia and Vueling are the same and its only obvious to those that read the business section in newspapers. Being partly Spanish, my muttering is loud enough for the customer service attendant to explain rather mockingly "it says so in small print on my ticket". That serves me right! Businessman Shabs! Pity for people like Jos, though. Well, thats customer service for you from a Spanish company….no doubt they will excel in China (sarcasm) and no doubt I will confirm with the stewardess as I enter the flight: “we are bound for barcelona aren’t we?" (fact).
First published on Jan 27, 2016 @ 18:45, on samuhya.com