chinees echtpaar

Care parallels between China and the Netherlands

One of these experts was Yuan Lu, Professor of Industrial Design at the Eindhoven University of Technology. She is a perfect example of the situation many Chinese find themselves in: living far away from her parents/in-laws, who live independently hope to be able to continue doing so for some time.

Governments forcing society to provide care

Lu sees parallels between the Chinese and Dutch care markets. In both countries, 25% of the population will soon be over 65. In China this will be exacerbated by years of one-child policy. Interpersonal care provision will become a heavy burden. To keep care affordable, society is also expected to play a more active role in care in China. These developments demand new, smart solutions. However, it will take more than the latter to solve things: we also have to learn how to use these solutions together, how these can truly be made available to people at home.

Senior technology phobia

The solutions should originate among various disciplines (technology, design, care) that work on smart health initiatives in networks of research institutes, care institutions and end users. Like Dutch seniors, many Chinese pensioners are still wary of digital technology, explains Lu. The challenge is to use good design to seamlessly attune that technology to the seniors’ daily lives to create acceptance. 

Smart health fieldwork in China

To study and test this, she collaborates with Zhejang University. The cooperation allows Dutch researchers to conduct ‘field work’ in China. And that is of great importance to understanding the Chinese context of smart health innovations. For instance, many Chinese seniors use the community centres that can be found in every village or neighbourhood and offer activities aimed at social activation. It makes sense to align with this. Private hospitals are also on the rise and often constitute a better initial entry point for innovative products than the state-run hospitals.

Collaborate with a reliable Chinese partner

Perhaps the most important factor for successfully conducting business in China is to cooperate with a reliable Chinese partner, says Brian O’Connor, Chairman of the European Connected Health Alliance and also a shareholder in the China Connected Health Alliance. “Always start where you know someone. Never just go at it, as you will get lost. Prepare very thoroughly for the market you wish to access.”

Collaborate in ecosystems

“Whatever you do, don’t go it alone,” continues O’ Connor. “Collaborate in ecosystems, link Chinese stakeholders such as providers, investors and suppliers to potential partners in Europe. Only then do you maximise your chances of success.”

Mark Ennis, Chairman of Invest Northern Ireland who has years of experience as an investor in countries including China adds: “Healthcare ecosystems promote the development of a joint language and facilitate the creation of cooperations, and are therefore interesting to investors. This approach has already provided excellent results in Europe and I am convinced that joining the Chinese ecosystem will also lead to successful market implementation for European companies.”

Be the specialist

Properly studying the market is also the advice William Kilque of the JUMO Group gives. He started multiple companies in China and helps other entrepreneurs do the same. “Carefully assess what the market has to offer. A lot of the smart health market has already been covered by Chinese companies. There is however demand for very high-quality, specialised products. Also, ensure your product is easy to scale up, because the market is enormous.”

Capitalise on status using social media

Kilque points out the huge popularity of social media and smartphone use in China. In 2017, an estimated 745 million people will be active on digital social media networks, primarily on the Chinese counterparts of Western networks such as WeChat, the Chinese WhatsApp and Weibo, comparable to Twitter. Networks popular here aren’t always equally well known in China, so it pays to immerse yourself in Chinese social media, it represents a key avenue of drawing attention to your product.

Mobile payment common in China

“You should also realise,” indicates Kilque, “that people in China are much more accustomed to transferring money using their mobile than people here. Both mutually and to webshops. This makes daily trade simple. “The Chinese have become huge fans of online shopping, particularly through Alibaba’s webshop. One should note however, that not all seniors have smartphones. Their children, who often arrange care for them, do.

It helps to speak Chinese

Finally, the language is a point of attention. Speaking Chinese yourself helps, but it’s hard to learn. Make sure you can understand and monitor the companies you work with, recommends O’Connor. This also speaks in favour of having a reliable Chinese partner.

Five pitches

Five pitches from product developers clarified how important it is to study the Chinese healthcare market. The five pitched their smart health innovations to the panel of experts seeking to find out whether they stood a chance on the Chinese market.

This meeting was a Provincial Government of Noord-Brabant, Coral, China Connected Health Alliance and Europe Connected Health Alliances co-production.

Call for registrations for the 2016 trade mission

If, as a developer of a smart health innovation, you seriously want to focus on the opportunities China represents, you can inform Floris-Jan Donders at the Provincial Government of Noord-Brabant. The provincial government is preparing a trade mission to Jiangsu province in April 2016. Interested parties should be aware that the preparations, the trip and the posterior process will take a full year. As stated, going to China is a ‘completely new journey’. For further information please e-mail: fdonders@brabant.nl