Blog Interviews LifeStory World

Woman Empowered

Firdouz Hameed

You might know Dr. Ruchi Dana as the Board Member of Dana Group, an organization that is worth more than $500 million. She is someone who is amongst the Top 75 Family Business Leaders. Dr. Ruchi is a perfectionist. She is a strong promoter of women’s empowerment. She is someone who strives in making a legacy of her own. Dr. Ruchi is also the founder of jugaad.ae, One Big Family, and Pik A Venture. She is also the President & COO of Duluth Medical Technologies Inc. She is Forbes Next Generation Top Indian Pioneer 2019. Dr. Ruchi is a recipient of the YuvaRatna Award 2018, and she has won the Forbes Next Generation Leader in the Arab World multiple times.  

How different do you think is growing up on one of the Top 75 business families in the world? Is the weight of expectations a burden or something that motivates you? 

My dad is a first-generation businessman and I have seen our family struggle when my dad was starting his business. Those days kept me grounded and humble. This experience also helps me to relate to other entrepreneurs who are in the startup phase of their businesses. Today, the success that we are seeing and the recognition that I am getting from various sources motivates me to do even more. It makes me want to bring about a bigger change in the world we live in. I do speak a lot at conferences and I always try my best to support and motivate others, especially women to rise in their personal and professional lives.

You have initiated three startups and ensured that they all became a success. Are there any other projects that you are involved in that we need to know about? And which is more challenging, running a startup or being the board member of an MNC?  

I would say that running a startup is more challenging, but exciting for me. I love starting things from scratch and organizing the team, putting in the hard work to ensure that success follows. At the moment, I am also working as the co-founder and COO of Duluth Medical Technologies Inc., a Silicon Valley-based Robotic Surgery Device Company. It is a USA Delaware registered corporation. Duluth Medical Technologies Inc. was found to develop a wide range of intelligent, agile, affordable robots, targeting medical surgical applications, to improve patient care.

Leveraging years of expertise in life sciences and device/robotic technologies, Duluth is actively promoting initiatives to improve patient care and lower costs. The company is collaborating on clinical data exchange in terms of CT Scans, MRI Scans and Arthroscopy, Arthroplasty videos with the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), Stanford and various hospitals in the Middle East and Asia. The vision of Duluth is to democratize healthcare for all and access untapped markets by providing superior technologies at an affordable price. With the help of Duluth, patients and doctors worldwide will have access to the latest robotic surgery technologies at 1/10th the price of current Robotic systems.

Duluth’s initial market is orthopedic applications mainly joint replacement surgeries, but the long term vision is to enter mainstream surgeries. The current robotic surgery systems cost over one million dollars and take many hours of training on the surgeon’s part, while also requiring special operating rooms that only large, well-capitalized hospitals can afford. Duluth’s robotic system is expected to cost about 90% less than the current systems and is developed to assist surgeons in their existing operating room, with their current surgical training experience. Some of its unique advantages are precision, speed, and agility and improved patient-reported outcomes all for the fraction of the cost of existing robotic systems.

Pertinent to the current situation, robot-assisted surgery (RAS) may also help to reduce hospital stay for patients thus making room for COVID-19 patients. Also, it requires fewer nurses and assistants in the operation theater, thus freeing up manpower resources for other procedures/patients or COVID patients. Duluth has filed for several patents to protect its intellectual property, and I’m the investor for two US patents on AI in Robotic Surgery.

My co-founder, Fred has more than 35 years of experience in emerging companies. Several of Fred’s companies were acquired during the last few years. To mention a few, Sharp Surgical by Cook Medical in 2012, PS Inc., an internet-based medical company by Packet Stream Inc. AFx Inc. was acquired by Boston Scientific in 2004 and Vivant Medical Technologies was acquired by Covidien in 2005.

Fred has also served as CEO and Chairman of the Board of Axis Surgical Technologies Inc. (now called Trice Medical) and Avantis Medical Systems. I have 12 years of experience in emerging companies in medical devices. I am a trained Medical Practitioner, transitioned to a successful Entrepreneur and Business Leader. I am also a Stanford Biodesign Fellow and Stanford MBA’13.

Now, you have experience in working for Med Tech. Thousands of companies are already using AI and ML solutions in improving healthcare. A lot of startups are constantly trying to find more breakthroughs in this sector using this technology. In order to have a breakthrough, it demands a lot of databases. These databases are not readymade or easily available. And, even if you get such a large database, securing it is a major concern. A lot of people’s information is at risk here. How can a startup get such a large database and ensure its safety? 

We are mainly working with databases of X-ray images, CT Scans, MRI Scans, Laparoscopy, and arthroscopy videos. It’s a challenge to get the data and to get matched data of these patients. Matched data means that the X-ray, CT, MRI scans, videos and still images are of the same individual patient for a particular pathology. The good thing about our databases is that they are HIPPA compliant. Oftentimes we write white papers with institutions, hospitals, clinics, etc. to secure the required data. We also get patient and doctor consent for getting their data and ensure that the data is secure and put to good use.

E-Commerce is disrupting the retail sector in the UAE with an estimated growth of 20 percent per year. With a younger generation who are more tech-savvy and have more spending power, do you think we are gradually moving away from the brick-and-mortar business, and possibly forcing them out of business? What about those who still believe in giving a more personalized customer experience? Will they need to think twice before going for the conventional method of doing business?

E-Commerce is disrupting the retail sector worldwide and quite a lot in the UAE. Every day we see a lot of traditional brick-and-mortar businesses suffer and go out of business. But one feels this is also a time for these brick-and-mortar businesses to innovate and strategize well so that they can still capture a sizable market of the younger generation and the e-commerce world.

One way to innovate is to explore options like the retail-as-a-service model, where you can enable personal touch to e-commerce companies by typing up with brick-and-mortar shopping experiences. For example, we recently saw that b8ta has opened up its first store outside the US and it’s located in the center of Dubai in Dubai Mall. So, we can see that there is room for innovation and improvement and when we see companies like b8ta come to UAE, we know that this region has the potential and the likelihood to succeed with newer models as the UAE has always been open for new ideas and innovations.

Also, given the COVID-19 situation, we can see several new-entrants and many established brick and mortar stores completely shifting to online commerce. This is good for the industry as well, as the more flexible a company is, the higher its chances to succeed. Also, because of the crisis of COVID-19, we can see only those serious and fundamentally strong businesses will remain functional.

Dana Group has a VC fund established for startups and SMEs in the MENA region. What are the things that you look at in a company when you fund them? How easy is it for these companies to reach out to you? And how many companies have you invested in so far?

Team, team, and the team is the main thing that we look for in a startup. The quality of the team, their experience, and their credentials is very important. Once that is fine, the next thing we look at is the market size. We check if the market size is big enough to create a disruption and we also look for self-sustainable business models. We are a traditional family, and we believe in creating values. Hence, we only invest in companies that are out there to disrupt markets and create value. I travel quite often to the US, Europe, India, and the Middle East. I try to meet the startup founders face to face on my visits.

We also get a good deal flow from our various worldwide network of associates and get access to startups from Demo Days, Pitch days, etc. Companies also reach out to us with warm introductions, and calls/emails, but oftentimes we go looking for the startups and trying to get access to great startup teams, which we don’t want to miss out on. We have a portfolio of 13 companies at the moment.

The failure rate for digital healthcare startups is more than in any other sector. Why is that so difficult to succeed in healthcare? What are these startups missing out on? 

Healthcare is an industry that is very massive and has been very resistant to change. It is a little difficult to bring about a change in such an industry, where there are so many institutional stakeholders involved. But, if we look at different sectors within healthcare, I can see a lot of startups succeeding and a lot of startups having the potential to succeed. Innovative business models are coming out of different countries and these are not copy-cat startups.

For example, in countries like India, where labor is cheap, we can see several at-home blood test startups coming up and these are bound to succeed. Similarly, there is a huge innovation happening in the genetic, microbiome field, and precision medicine. The challenges that startups faced in the past was that the stakeholders were inert to changes, but now we can see several corporate companies, institutions, hospitals, which are ready to do pilot projects and help startups succeed. Also, many healthcare companies have their corporate venture capital arms, which even fund various startups for the long term. Apart from the recent boom in telemedicine, there are also many interesting new technologies coming up to solve the COVID-19 problem, including testing kits, supply chain solutions, plasma ion therapy, and also COVID-19 vaccine, which would come in shortly.

2020 seems to be a monumental year for the GCC in terms of trade. UAE and Egypt are looking to strengthen ties. There is also a strong collaboration happening between several African and Asian countries. At this juncture, is Dana Group looking to expand its trading ties with several of these countries?

Recently, we have set up a new steel manufacturing unit called the Dana Steel Industry project in Dubai Industrial Park, which is strategically located next to Al Maktoum International Airport ( 10 mins. drive) and near the Jebel Ali Sea Port(20 mins. drive). The City provides a traffic-free environment with direct connections to Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road and the Emirates Road, providing easy and convenient access to global transportation points via road, air, and sea. This means excellent connectivity to Sea Port and also Mid Way, between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Since this project is outside the free zone, we are regularly exporting our goods to the GCC countries and Arab League countries as the factory has a strategic advantage for “MADE IN UAE” products. This also means one gets to enjoy custom free export to the GCC and Arab League Countries. Moreover, there is no Anti-Dumping Duty against UAE (unlike India, China) on any steel products. So, we are doing steel exports to the US and our project has the strategic importance of exporting to the US & European markets because of no Anti-Dumping Duty. DIC is located just next to Jebel Ali Sea Port. It is one of the world’s busiest ports with excellent connectivity of vessels for the entire world.

Given the COVID-19 situation, in these unprecedented times, we can see that all countries are trying to be self-sufficient, so to be ready for the future every country needs to rely on its core industries. We saw in UAE a good boost was given to the Agritech and Hydroponics sector, and we can foresee similar support to all the core sectors and industries to build up the economy.

The UAE government is supporting the local industry well and we can see that there will be more local manufacturing facilities opening up in the UAE. We also appreciate the kind of support that the banks are providing in terms of the relaxation of payment plans, interest rates, etc. UAE’s stimulus package is really attractive and came during the need of the hour and it’s really helping the local industries flourish.

Similarly, if we look at other countries, we see that there will be a lot shifting of industries across boundaries and it would all depend upon the steps a country is taking to navigate the crisis, the kind of stimulus package a country is providing and the policies in place to handle such critical situations. The UAE government has also been doing great in terms of the testing facilities and we see that UAE has been really efficient in handling this. This gives us and others the confidence that UAE will do well in the future.

We know how determined you are on women empowerment. You are also someone who supports several women entrepreneurs in the Middle East. As someone who is closely associated with them, do you feel that there is a drop in quality of higher education that the youth gets in this country and that’s affecting many of these passionate women?  

I feel that it’s the Emirati women who are running the country. I have seen huge talent in the local Emirati women and with the help of the right education system, we are seeing this talent getting nurtured. The Zayed University focused entirely on women, and it focuses a lot on entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurship mindset. Almost all elite colleges now have a branch in the UAE and it’s getting easier for women to get access to quality higher education while staying within the UAE. We have seen a huge shift in the mindset of the women that come out of these universities and they are more than eager to join the workforce. They are ready to be future leaders and champions of change in their communities.

Through the years so many Indians have found humongous success in the Middle East. Do you feel even today the Middle East is more lucrative for young entrepreneurs from India?  

I feel today the Middle East is much more lucrative than any place in the world, especially for young entrepreneurs. I say this because we get immense support from the UAE government for startups. Similarly, Oman, Saudi, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Egypt are also coming up with initiatives to nurture, finance, and attract talents. The best part about today is that you no longer need to be in Silicon Valley to start a company. You have the internet, which is available everywhere and with the help of the cloud, AWS, etc. the cost of starting a company is so less compared to 30 years back.

The only support you need from outside is that of the ecosystem and investors. These days, we can see that the UAE government has come up with incubators, accelerators, the Dubai Future Foundation, Hub71, and many other initiatives to make sure that startups are made a success. We have already seen some exits in the region and there are many more to follow. Moreover, as we have seen with Fadi Ghandour’s Wamda Capital and others, there is a growing trend that after these exits these successful entrepreneurs are more than eager to help other startups succeed.

You have won so many awards. Which is the one you cherish the most? 

The one award that I cherish the most is Forbes Top Power Businesswoman 2020 award. The reason for this is that with my multicultural upbringing and wide industry exposure, I have made it my mission to try to spread my knowledge, connect and engage with the right audience and help empower women. I intend to make more women choose the STEM field and be leaders in their industry. Forbes Top Power Businesswoman 2020 award has provided me a platform for advocating women. It has enabled me to help other women to advance in their fields, specifically STEM field. I am also part of many initiatives, where I go out to the community and reach out to women.

What is next for Dr. Ruchi Dana? 

Since I am a medical doctor and we have a hospital and medical institute in India, I am working towards healthcare innovations and getting access to the latest technological advances in Healthcare. Along with AI and Robotics in Healthcare, I am also very much involved with other new healthcare technologies in the COVID-19 space. I also invested a bit into companies that are working for solutions for Corona virus. I am also currently authoring a few articles on how AI and robotic surgery is helping in the COVID-19 situation. A lot can be done in this space as Robots not just lead to fewer infections, but also lead to shorter recovery times, less staff required in Operation Theaters, hence providing more space and resources to cater to the COVID-19 patients and help unburden the healthcare system.

I see immense potential in the field of med-tech, deep-tech and that’s the reason I am an investor. I’m also part of the founding team of Duluth Medical Technologies Inc, which is a low-cost Robotic Surgery startup. At Duluth Medical Technologies Inc., we are trying to develop intelligent, agile and affordable robots to improve patient care. Our vision is to democratize healthcare to make it more equitable and affordable. I also want to do more to help other women to advance in their fields, specifically STEM fields. I am currently mentoring a few young women and this is my small way of bringing about a change in society.

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