Don't worry, YACOB will help you make the right food choice in school
An observation at work about how more attention is paid to a treatment rather than prevention would have remained just that, an observation, but Faisal Al Hammadi, co-founder and CEO of YACOB Intelligent Health, felt that it was his responsibility to do something about it.
"In my previous work in a healthcare investment firm, I noticed that a lot of emphasis is being put on the treatment of lifestyle diseases, and not enough on prevention. Obesity is becoming a severe public health crisis. In the UAE, obesity levels are as high as 37 per cent of the population, which is double the world average. This is simply unacceptable, and quite preventable," he told Khaleej Times.
Al Hammadi's answer came in the form of YACOB, a seamless nutrition management ecosystem platform, and his focus was on schools across the UAE. The whole idea of YACOB is very simple - help parents make healthier food choices for their children, and understand the effects and impacts of those choices. The start-up aims to combat skyrocketing obesity rates by enabling schools to manage nutrition using the latest in technology and behavioral economics.
The way that YACOB works is also very simple - parents register online and their children are supplied with a card to be used in the place of cash to purchase their daily school meals. The parents can top up and monitor their child's account and purchases. They can also pre-select and set meals and snacks from a wide range of healthy options. Every time the card is presented at a till, the balance is displayed and this lets pupils know how much money they have available. Not only can parents keep track of all the transactions, from top-ups to purchases, but they can also get access to the nutritional values of the meals.
This allows both the parents and children to make healthier food choices. The platform also set rewards and achievements for reaching health goals, and allows parents to create allergy notifications to help food accidents from happening.
Al Hammadi describes YACOB as the most efficient communication and operational flow between children, parents, schools, and food vendors in the UAE. The team at YACOB is continuously identifying and exploring new opportunities in nutrition research in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. The platform's capacity to create a unified and digital big picture also provides a much needed level of transparency across the ecosystem, which generates the opportunity for government policy makers to further enhance standards for children's health assessment data nationwide.
"In order to cure the diabetes and obesity epidemic, we have to start to think about nutrition in a different way. We see food to a large extent as the personalised drug medicine we take every day. YACOB is working in collaboration with schools and the government and using the latest in AI technologies to cure this at the root by focusing on our younger generation," explained Tarig El-Sheikh, chief product and marketing officer at YACOB.
YACOB is already in operation in more than 50 schools across the UAE including Jumeira Baccalaureate School, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi, Dubai American Academy, and Raha International School.
The platform has also gained the attention of several funds that will help it expand in the coming years.
"We have raised commitments of $1.5 million from Techstars, 500 Startups, Savour Ventures, and the Abu Dhabi Investment Office's Ventures Fund have committed to matching funds, dirham for dirham," said Al Hammadi. "There are various payment companies for school services, however, we are unique as we can combine school canteen purchases with tracking and visualizing nutrition data. Our objective is to show data on improved nutrition intake based on positive reinforcement tools that we are building into our product."
"I believe the system is broken when it comes to health and nutrition at schools. This space is prime for disruption. Our future generation's health is at stake, so that is why I am so passionate about YACOB addressing this challenge. We at Techstars believe that the caliber of the founding team matters most. As we invest at the seed stage of startups, we want to know if the founders have the clarity of addressable pain points, the grit to find a resolve, and the tenacious drive to execute. When I met Faisal and Tarig, I knew firsthand they had what it takes," said Vijay Tirathrai, MD at Techstars.
Similarly, Ahmad Alwan, head of Strategy & Corporate Development at Hub71, shared his thoughts on what had attracted them to YACOB. "Faisal Al Hammadi is a great example of a founder that we hope to see more of as part of the tech community. As an Emirati national, Faisal has followed his passion for promoting health and nutrition using technology; creating better eating habits for children and parents. As YACOB expands across the region, we look forward to supporting them by opening doors into new markets and introducing them to more investors. In fact, YACOB is one of the first four startups to qualify for Ghadan Ventures' Co-investment funding. YACOB is an up-and-coming startup who's truly benefiting from the full Hub71 ecosystem - access to funding, access to global networks and a favorable business environment."