In our second instalment on CEE startups in the medical and health sectors, we look at the prospects in the EU (read part 1 here)
In a recent guest post on US health startup incubator Rock Health’s website, Frank Boermeester of HealthStartup.eu provided a neat dissection of the current state of the European digital health scene, which might go a long way in debunking the idea that digital health is primarily an American story. Although the old continent still lags behind the US, the long-term growth trends of a “robust and expanding digital health ecosystem” in Europe are clear, including a highly developed pharmaceuticals industry and top academic institutions.
The socio-demographic backdrop is also heavily weighing in favour of innovation and reform within the sector, given the financial unsustainability of the EU healthcare system and the challenges brought on by an increasingly ageing population. To bring costs down, “technology is needed, and fast”, says Boermeester.
Especially promising advances are being made in sensors, mobile and data management. As recognised by the Austrian company 4a medicom, the most dynamic trends in strengthening healthcare in the EU revolve around disease prevention, decentralisation of diagnosis and intervention, and containment of cost.
While the market heterogeneity across the 27 EU member states does call for greater customisation in a variety of areas and makes efficient scaling difficult, the EU economy is still the biggest in the world in terms of GDP, and the regulatory environment may be less constraining than commonly believed. “Once a company has obtained its CE mark (which certifies that the product is safe, but not necessarily effective) it can, in principle, begin commercialising its product anywhere in the EU while simultaneously gathering data and conducting the necessary clinical efficacy trials,” writes Boermeester.
Bringing “Better, Faster, Cheaper” to Europe
When it comes to disrupting healthcare, the ultimate goal can be defined as “having systems in place, which will eventually be able to mine all the available health data to create customised recommendations for each patient”, says Dr. Kapil Parakh. Dr. Parakh is Director of Heart Failure at John Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and US expert on the intersection of health, behaviour and technology (see Dr. Parakh’s TNW interview, Bringing the Lean Startup Approach to Healthcare).
US seed-accelerator Rock Health was the first of its kind to specialise on digital health and healthcare technology startups. It divides participating startups in a range of health service-oriented categories, ranging from “Quantify yourself” to “Enhancing the provider-patient relationship”, via “Sensing Stuff”. For an in-depth view of what’s already out there on a global scale, see their Startup List.
Europe has been catching up on the trend with accelerators, such as healthbox (London), Modern Aging (Stockholm), HealthXL (Startup Bootcamp) (Dublin) and Health Axis Europe (in Cambridge, UK; Leuven, Belgium and Heidelberg, Germany). Ireland has become a bit of a digital health hot spot with the eHealth Week conference to be hosted in Dublin next week, from 13-15 May. Co-organised by the European Commission, the Irish Presidency of the EU Council, and HIMSS Europe the three-day event brings together the full spectrum of relevant EU industry and policy-making stakeholders, expecting to attract about 2.500 attendees. The thematic focus this year will be on “delivering innovation and well-being, focusing on mHealth, cross border co-operation and empowering patients and staff through the use of ePortals”.
In her recent blog post “Calling all small businesses with bright ideas for e-Health!” the Vice-President of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes, acknowledges the central role played by small and medium-sized companies in the digital healthcare sector and the opportunities offered through Europe-wide competitions and events such as the eHealth Solution EU SME Competition organized by TICBioMed with the endorsement of the Health and Wellbeing Unit of DG CONNECT of the European Commission. (Winners of this year’s Competition will be announced at the abovementioned eHealth Week conference in Dublin).
While many health startups descend from North Western Europe and also the Baltic countries (among them Latvian Blue Bridge Technologies and Estonian Cognuse Neuroscience), CEE seems to be lagging behind these recent developments on the medical and healthcare sectors – there are no nominees from the region in the eHealth Solution EU SME Competition this year or the year before.
Scaling medicine and accelerating data in Europe – Overcoming cultural barriers?
The relative underrepresentation of European startups in the field may also have to do with cultural factors. In another blog post entitled “A Digital Health Manifesto: the future of healthcare, possible today”, Frank Boermeester advises startups “to think beyond single-purpose products and explore how they can plug into the existing healthcare plumbing and link up with other synergistic developers.” The overall aim? Cutting costs in a way that simultaneously improves both quality and effectiveness of care. Despite this being 2013, there may still be cultural and moral barriers to overcome: “the promise of digital health technologies lies in a more transparent and efficient health market”, says Boermeester, where “consumers and patients play a more responsible and engaged role.” He ventures that, in ideological terms, this is a “tall order” for Europe.
This seems to be particularly the case for the CEE region. Co-founders Josipa Majić and Ana Burica of Croatian startup IDerma told inventures.eu, “we have noticed that medical startups are not as present as we would probably want due to numerous reasons. But the trends are changing as we speak and hopefully we will have the opportunity to see more of them dealing with healthcare improvementsas well as cooperate with greater number of Croatian investors, mentors and potential advisors who have experience in medical industry.”
According to Dr. Jama Nateqi, founder of medical search engine Symptoma, the European authorities, both on a national and on an EU level, should work on improving the healthcare system structurally, “so that the performance principle can be implemented efficiently. In that way, startups with the best solutions can find a faster entry into the system.”
Not only web and mobile startups are creating promising solutions for the medical and health sectors. Stay tuned for part three of our med and health focus, to learn how CEE startups are revolutionising the healthcare market with innovative tangible products.
Read more on the subject:
To learn more about growth prospects for digital healthcare in the EU, see the European Commission’s eHealth Action Plan 2012-2020