Innovation in healthcare is something which impacts each and every one of us. From solutions helping to relieve pressure on healthcare systems and innovations empowering greater autonomy over personal health to new medical devices and beyond, healthtech is a very exciting space in Europe’s startup ecosystem right now.
EIT Health in South, Central and Eastern Europe have set up the RIS Innovation Call, InnoStars Awards and Attract to Invest programme to foster entrepreneurial development in healthcare in the region. The programmes back startups and budding entrepreneurs to reach their potential, offering a holistic combination of mentoring, network support, guidance and finance.
Applications to join the InnoStars Awards 2023 programme close on April 16th – apply here today!
The focus is on medtech, biotech and digital health. These verticals cover the broad spectrum of the health sector and have the potential to leave a lasting impact on people’s lives. They are verticals that are driven by tech development – and they are market areas that need expert advice, support and financial backing.
While Europe’s innovation and startup ecosystem is evolving, it’s been noticed that there is an innovation gap – with the majority of funding and tech development centred in the west of the continent, attached to the big economies of the UK, France and Germany. To level the playing field, and create a more collaborative healthtech space on a content-wide level, EIT Health established different programmes to help startups and entrepreneurs at different points of early-stage development.
We chatted with Monika Toth, EIT Health RIS Director, EIT Health InnoStars, to learn more about the programmes in place.
What is EIT Health setting out to achieve in this region?
EIT Health has set out to address the regional innovation gap in Europe. The Regional Innovation Scheme program (RIS) was established to give the necessary support to this emerging region.
We have 14 EIT Health Hubs across South, Central and Eastern Europe and with the support of these hubs, we partner with local stakeholders and entrepreneurs.
The idea is to first close the innovation gap and also to connect those innovators to the wider European innovation ecosystem.
What makes the healthcare sector stand out?
Healthcare innovation is a long journey because it’s such an intensely regulated, specific market, where innovation is an expensive risk to take. It requires a series of validation – among others idea validation, technical validation, clinical validation, regulatory compliance, and health technology assessment. Since innovation in healthcare is a time-consuming process, needs competencies from various fields (medical, business, technology, regulatory, financing), and, there is a significant risk embedded, there are very few private funding options out there, especially in the early phase of healthcare innovation. Healthcare is a public function, and we need to support it.
The intention of EIT Health in this region is to invest in and work with these early-stage startups that otherwise probably wouldn’t survive.
In the ideation, pre-prototype phase, there is little private money available. So, we’re making public support accessible, for the betterment of all.
There’s also the fact that healthcare is a public function. Startups don’t just need money to build their product, they also need support to bring it to the healthcare industry and different stakeholders. There are approval processes that need to be undertaken – and this would be impossible for startups without achieving key partnerships in each market they want to grow in.
What are the main challenges that EIT Health are addressing?
Startups need money, but they also need mentoring and skill development, especially at the early stage. There are different accelerator programmes, but many of them are lacking some very important aspects. We holistically combine funding with skills development, mentoring and matchmaking opportunities.
There are researchers out there with fantastic solutions, but they need to develop their business skills. They need to learn about business planning, market strategy, regulatory requirements, sales and investment strategy.
So, we aim to teach business skills and nurture entrepreneurship skills. We are on a mission to support startups and also educate on entrepreneurship. This way, we not only help individual startups become successful, but we are also contributing to creating a new culture of entrepreneurship within the region – and this will help foster a new generation of innovation and exciting business development.
We create a new culture of entrepreneurship that’s been lacking in the region and facilitate pan-European collaboration, as well as mentorship and training with our over 600 selected mentors and coaches.
Can you tell us about the different programmes?
There are three different programmes helping startups at different levels of development in the early stage.
The RIS Innovation Call searches for promising innovation projects at the proof-of-concept phase. The emphasis in this project is on collaboration, so we encourage consortia to apply.
It is a programme that stimulates the creation of new startups while boosting regional cooperation, as it connects academic and business institutions with researchers and startups. In the last 4 years, we have supported 70 consortia, thanks to which we have facilitated over 200 new connections in the Central-Eastern and Southern European region.
The InnoStars Awards has been running for 6 years. Here, we select startups with an MVP or prototype and the focus is on developing business competencies rather than just collaboration as in the RIS Innovation Call.
What makes InnoStars Awards unique is its tailor-made mentoring process and the diversified expert pool through which we can support the startup in the areas where they need it most. Not only does it give access to funding and mentoring, but access to the biggest healthcare network in Europe with over 130 partners from industry academia and research centres.
Once you get into the EIT Health pipeline, we will nurture your startup in every step of your journey, where you will get to know international experts, investors, fellow entrepreneurs, and relevant stakeholders.
So far, we’ve supported 125 startups within this programme that have attracted a total of €30 million in investment and grants.
Attract to Invest is like the third phase programme for early-stage startups. For many early-stage startups, getting investment is the hardest part – not because there isn’t funding available, but rather because they don’t have experience in handling investor relations, pitching, and the know-how to embark on fundraising.
We launched a new programme in 2022 and it’s been really successful. The Attract to invest boot camps taught participating startups the technical details of investor relations, the strategies to follow, how to build a pitch deck, and how to approach investors, and they also received individual mentoring. It’s really a fantastic amount of support.
Can you tell us some success stories?
The programmes give a hands-on, holistic and full spectrum of support to ambitious startups and we’re really proud of how it works.
Ligence, is a Lithuanian startup having an out of box web-based, fully integrated echocardiography analysis suite. They started their journey at EIT Jumpstarter 2019 (which is an idea phase pre-acceleration programme), and only a year later, the company won the 2020 EIT Health InnoStars Awards. Ligence, apart from raising external seed funding, was recognised through the European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator and came in for a grant of €2.5 million in 2021.
Nanordica Medical, from Estonia, has developed a solution for curing infected wounds. The team was a finalist of last year’s InnoStars Awards (2022) and has already attracted a €3 million private investment and EIC funds since then.
Long-term plans for the region?
The aim is to mature the innovation ecosystem in the region. We aim to do this through knowledge transfer. So, we bring together the innovation leaders, local stakeholders and change makers and organise inspirational talks, master classes and networking opportunities. We encourage local discussions to open up across the different hubs we operate in and have conversations on how we can reshape the innovation ecosystem.
In the long term, we are changing the face of innovation and entrepreneurship in the region, fostering a new culture in this regard and making Southern and Central Eastern Europe a place to do business.
Year after year, we are seeing more applications to our programmes – which is a positive signal we’re getting things right. The region is becoming more entrepreneurial and our startups are becoming more successful in the wider European market.
What trends do you see emerging over the next few years?
Data in healthcare innovation is going to be major. Aside from this, we see 5 key trends:
Demand for Digital Medical Devices: Digitally-based healthcare solutions are increasingly popular and are really changing the face of healthcare. But as demand steps up and more solutions come about, they need to be effectively integrated systematically and we need to focus on innovation that allows for this. Solutions that can navigate a fragmented regulatory pathway and give patients and medical professionals the solutions they crave.
Upskilling and reskilling: There’s a major talent shortage and skills gap in healthcare systems across Europe. In 2023 we can expect to see more industry actors focusing on upskilling and reskilling the healthcare workforce, so we continue to provide education programmes to do this effectively and at scale.
Patient autonomy: This began with the outbreak of Covid, but time and time again autonomous healthcare solutions are being sought after. When patients are empowered to take control over their own care, we see better health outcomes for the patient and health care systems alike.
New models to deliver healthcare: We expect to see a continuation of new models being introduced to deliver healthcare, with a particular emphasis on the concept of value-based healthcare. We predict more and more healthcare providers in Europe will switch from fee-for-service care to value-based care, where the quality of patient intervention is the most important measure of success.
Building trust and harnessing the power of health data: This is a rapidly emerging segment. Health data is a necessary asset in the healthcare industry, offering wide-ranging benefits from improving the accuracy of diagnoses and treatment decisions to fueling research and innovation and informing policymaking.
What advice would you give to a startup or entrepreneur wanting to apply to these programmes?
Firstly, make sure you can describe your startup or solution as well as the problem you are solving. Be able to demonstrate how big the problem is, how many people are affected, and the impact on the healthcare system as a whole.
Secondly, think about the market – what competitors do you have, what are they doing and how can you differentiate?
Lastly, think about how you plan to sell your product. We understand you might not be a businessperson, but, at least consider where your end-product will end up, and who you need to target to get there.
Applicants should clearly present the value of the solution, scale of the problem and scope of the potential market.
Applications are now open!
Applications to join the InnoStars Awards 2023 programme close on April 16th – apply here today!
Editor’s Note: This post has been created in collaboration and with financial support from EIT Health. If you’re also interested in partnering with us, just reach out.
EIT Health is one of the biggest European public-private partnerships in the field of healthcare innovation. Comprised of approximately 130 Partners, EIT Health is a unique European network of top companies, universities, research and development centres, as well as hospitals and healthcare institutes. EIT Health’s role is to build an ecosystem that enables the development of healthcare for the future so that European citizens can live longer and healthier lives.