Pictureabove. Day 1 on the stand, Leeann Monk-Ozgul, Mary McKenna, Jennifer Neff, Dr Ola Aldafrawy of Dubai Health Authority, Alastair Hamilton CEO Invest NI, Swathi Sri Invest NI
I announced a week ago today that I’ve begun the New Year with a bang by formally joining Northern Irish tech for good startup, Elemental Software. I say “formally” because I’ve been the company’s mentor for the last 10 months via Northern Ireland’s excellent Propel programme. For anyone else who’s old enough to remember the 1970s it’s been a bit like that old Remington ad with the smooth as silk American entrepreneur Victor Kiam… Joking aside I can thoroughly recommend working in a company as the best possible way to conduct due diligence prior to investment and would be interested to hear from any other angels who’ve done the same.
The three of us at one of the parties – oops – I mean networking events
Elemental’s co-founders are Leeann Monk-Ozgul & Jennifer Neff & believe it or not they met through their mutual love of diagrams…which in my book is as good a way as any to identify a business partner. Both women have a strong track record in designing and managing community programmes and both have worked for many years in the tricky interface that exists between the private, public and third sectors. Even better, Jennifer and Leeann are both from Derry and it makes me very happy to continue supporting economic growth in the North West of Ireland by backing another local company that is without doubt destined for huge global success. Indeed, the golden thread that links the three of us is no other than Sir Ken Robinson – yes – he of “schools kill creativity” TED fame. Jennifer, Leeann and I were all at Sir Ken’s March 2011 talk in Derry but we didn’t know each other at the time.
They saw me taking photos and wondered who I was and they loved his talk so much that they eventually based their company name on Sir Ken’s book “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything” – far more sensible than what I did as a result of meeting him which was put his face on a mug (or should I say a cult collectible!).
Elemental provides an early to market digital solution that eases and addresses an escalating set of health related social challenges. Social prescribing is described as a way of linking patients in primary care with sources of support within the community. It’s as simple as that and it gives, for example, GPs a non-medical referral option that will run alongside existing treatments to improve a patient’s health and well-being.
This past week Jennifer, Leeane and I have been exhibiting at Arab Health in the World Trade Centre in Dubai. Thank you to all those people who opened their black books for me and made introductions before our trip out there. It was my first time visiting the Middle East on business and there was an awful lot to take in in a very short space of time. Dubai itself is easily accessible from Ireland with 30 direct flights a week from Dublin and only a 4 hour time difference. The city has the feel of a pioneer town and I can see why so many Irish and British people (young and old) are out there seeking their fortunes.
Arab Health in itself was an experience and a half. Vast doesn’t come close with 40 country pavilions and 20,000 visitors a day. We were lucky in so many ways. We’d been selected to participate in the Invest Northern Ireland stand and as one of our co-founders, Jennifer Neff, has already been working with potential UAE clients for a couple of years she was able to line up days and days worth of useful meetings in advance. We weren’t so lucky on the accommodation front. Booking.com let us down badly by cancelling our booking on the day of our arrival in Dubai and it was incredibly difficult to find somewhere to stay at such short notice. However, in the spirit of making lemonade from lemons we embraced the opportunity to stay for a few days in a more authentic part of the old town and see some sights we’d have otherwise missed.
With Irish powerhouse Eithne Treanor at the Dubai IBN breakfast – if you only knew one person in Dubai but it was Eithne you’d be ok!
Elemental is about to roll out the first social prescribing programme in the United Arab Emirates region, connecting key stakeholders in diabetes prevention and supporting patients most at risk to make better lifestyle choices, enhancing their quality of life and reducing demand on health services.
Being at Arab Health was an amazing chance for me as an investor and part time resource to meet some of our contacts face to face and to hear from them first hand how they love the simplicity of our platform and how they intend to use it.
We were also lucky to be selected as one of the UK companies that MP and Minister for Public Health and Innovation, Nicola Blackwood, requested to meet with when she was at Arab Health earlier this week. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to explain how our social prescribing platform will help improve people’s lives to someone who feels as passionately about social justice as Nicola does.
Around the edges of the conference we networked with our Irish business community friends and colleagues, attending a number of events including that hosted by His Excellency Ambassador Pat Hennessy, Irish Ambassador to UAE (and at which Irish Minister for Employment and Small Business Pat Breen TD and Dr Mohammad Abdulqader Al Redha of Dubai Health Authority spoke so well).
Dr Mohammad is an alumni of the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland and having spent 8 years in Dublin is truly an honorary Irishman. It was great to also squeeze in an early morning healthcare focused business breakfast with the Dubai Irish Business Network, to manage to see our good friend Eithne Treanor a number of times over the course of a few days and to meet our friend Barry Lee Cummings who works with his Northern Irish counterpart Wayne Denner on a worthy mission to help young people better manage their online reputations and combat cyberbullying.
They say a week is a long time in politics but I can confirm it’s also a long time in a busy startup. For anyone out there who’s seeking their own angel and wondering why I picked Elemental from all the hundreds of approaches I get these are the reasons I’d have given you if you’d asked me last Friday – awesome female founding team, growing social prescribing market, powerful product that’s also simple to use and understand and the fact that it’s tech for good. A week later I would add – co-founders that are both great on their feet, deep customer and sector knowledge and a level of commitment and hard work I’ve never seen in another startup. Keep your fingers crossed for us and watch our progress. Life in a startup is never easy – even when everyone’s on message, working their butts off and the planets all seem to be aligned. Comments welcome as always.