The past year has posed challenges that many of us had never even thought about. Challenges to our health, to the way we interact with each other, and to the way we go about our day-to-day lives.
Yet, with new challenges come new solutions, and the Dutch innovation ecosystem has not fallen short of that. SocialTech has gained vital importance, with entrepreneurs looking for smart solutions to today’s most pressing societal issues.
To clarify why we need SocialTech, our program manager Noortje van Sambeek and our partners explain more about the rise and potential of this new domain, and look into its role in the future healthcare system.
The rise of SocialTech
Over the past year, two main trends have come to the fore with regards to smart social tech solutions. One is focused on directly tackling the health and societal challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the other is more focused on prevention, ensuring that health and societal challenges do not become an issue in the future.
Both trends have played a significant role, and arguably, the prevention aspect may become even more crucial as we move forward.
For Peter Hulsen, Advisor and Changemaker at the Nederlands Centrum Jeugdgezondheid (NCJ) – the Dutch Center for Youth Health – the prevention of health problems is crucial, and it starts at a very early stage in one’s life.
“We see a great urgency to tackle health issues in young children as early as possible in their lives. It is crucial to give them a strong foundation to grow up on so there is no need for interventions later on.”
And it is not just about health, he adds. “It is about how our cities and villages are organised and spatially arranged. How much space there is for children and young people to move around.” Fostering a healthy and nurturing environment both in and outside of one’s home is not just a nice-to-have. It is a necessity.
The potential of SocialTech
SocialTech has the potential to transform our communities to make us more resilient, and as a result, stronger, too.
For sure, technology and innovation can help bring positive change to society, but it is important to remember that it’s not all about tech itself. It is also about the context, identifying the gaps in our community and finding ways to close them using innovative technology.
This is also the motivation behind launching the SocialTech Validation Lab, a program developed by YES!Delft in partnership with Erasmus University Rotterdam.
A new program for new challenges, says Noortje. “Our goal with this Validation Lab is to make innovation happen that can help society. We are bringing together people from many different backgrounds to create the best teams and the best solutions.”
The challenges we face today are global, but the solutions are to be found locally.
This is confirmed by Ed Brinksma, President of the Executive Board of Erasmus University Rotterdam. “The province of South Holland, particularly the Rotterdam region, is a rich breeding ground in terms of diversity and entrepreneurship. A multidisciplinary approach is vital for innovation and especially for solving the social issues in this region. In this way, together, we can advance inspiring SocialTech ideas and make a tangible contribution to a resilient and healthy society. “
Organisations such as EUR, NCJ, Social Impact Fonds Rotterdam and Health Holland are among the partners that would support the selected startups in developing the solutions that society needs the most.
There is a great relationship of trust between YES!Delft and its partners.“The past performance of YES!Delft and their recently started SocialTech Validation Lab both provide the essential moral trust and intellectual support for social technology entrepreneurs that strive to create positive impact,” said Nico van Meeteren, Executive Director and Secretary-General at Health Holland.
The SocialTech Validation Lab is currently accepting applications until April 7.
Towards the healthcare system of tomorrow
A lot has changed concerning how our healthcare systems work.
We are at the start of the transformation of healthcare, says Noortje. “We see it moving more and more towards people’s homes. Smart technology is making it possible to move towards the social domain and developing solutions that can make it more efficient.”
Today it’s clear that the pandemic has accelerated healthcare’s move in that direction.
“In the past year of having COVID-19 among us, we have learned that people don’t always need to interact directly with a healthcare professional. They are a lot more open to the idea of relying on websites and chatbots for information. This is a positive development given the fact that our healthcare system has been squeezed for resources during the pandemic,” Peter says.
In other words, innovation can help create solutions that take away some of the more repetitive and simple tasks that are still part of the day-to-day of medical professionals and instead help them focus on the cases that they are most needed for.
There is still a lot that technology can bring to the medical domain.
“This past year we’ve had to leapfrog when it comes to the digital evolution of healthcare,” says Noortje. “There is a lot more potential to be discovered, and we want to create the right environment and ecosystem for that to take place.
The SocialTech Validation Lab is looking for promising startups that want to bring innovation to society. The program will help these entrepreneurs find their product-solution fit and develop the business case around their idea.
Apply before April 7 for a chance to join the program!