Four years of EIT Health presence in the Romanian healthTech ecosystem in review

Dr. Ion-Gheorghe Petrovai, Co-Founder and Director of Innovation at FreshBlood HealthTech, the local NGO representing EIT Health in Romania. Photo: EIT Health iDays 2019, Cluj-Napoca.

EIT Health, a network of best-in-class health innovators supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union, decided four years ago to come towards the Romanian healthTech ecosystem by opening a call for a local hub at the beginning of 2018.

In the last four years, EIT Health has been a provider of networking and know-how, a supporter of Romanian healthTech startups and innovation projects, and a platform for collaboration. 

EIT Health provided the ecosystem with connection to the European healthcare ecosystem and to the level of activity and understanding that is present in other healthTech innovation centers around Europe like Barcelona, Budapest, Berlin or London. Since the beginning, EIT Health has been represented in Romania by FreshBlood HealthTech, a Cluj-based NGO that supports health innovation by connecting innovators to things that they need, providing feedback and mentoring.

Ion-Gheorghe Petrovai, Co-Founder and Director of Innovation at FreshBlood HealthTech, the EIT Health RIS Hub for Romania, is convinced that EIT Health helped pushed the local ecosystem “to build the table” and to invite around it all the stakeholders, most of the universities, the doctors interested in healthcare innovation, the local authorities and companies.

“Evolution can only happen if everybody is contributing. I like a lot a quote, ‘collaboration moves with the speed of trust’, and we needed to grow our collaboration to increase the trust in each other and actually further develop our contribution in the ecosystem, if we want to actually use the resources that we have, and become more visible on the European and also on the international map.”, says Dr. Ion-Gheorghe Petrovai, Co-Founder and Director of Innovation at FreshBlood HealthTech.

Results of the involvement of the EIT Health in the Romanian healthTech ecosystem

The results of the involvement of the EIT Health in the Romanian healthTech ecosystem began to be visible especially in the last two years, but the activity was intense all the last four years.

Between 2018-2019, the beneficiaries of the EIT Health programs were mostly individuals, students or young professionals that attended courses or participated in different programs.

From 2019, and especially in 2020, the local ecosystem got to the level where the Romanian startups began to apply at European level and began to be selected as beneficiaries of local innovation grants. 

In 2019, the Romanian startups had three winners from the twelve grants that were given, while in 2020 the local ecosystem received four grants from the total of fifteen grants that were given. There were also six startups that won different grants in different competitions from EIT Health in 2020. 

“While in 2020 we had a year of quantity, and I’m very happy to say that 2021 was a year of quality, as Romanian startups began to be among the winners of competitions. I would just like to mention here MyTully that not only entered in the InnoStars Awards, but won the first place of the competition, and also another startup from the Cluj-Napoca ecosystem, .lumen, which this year won the first European Innovation Council funding.”, says Dr. Ion-Gheorghe Petrovai.

Cluj-Napoca-based startup .lumen has received in 2021 a funding worth EUR 9,3 million in the European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator. In 2020, .lumen was among the winners of the Headstart program of the EIT Health, winning 50,000 euros to develop the project.

 Cornel Amariei, CEO & Founder of .lumen.

“EIT Health and FreshBlood have been with us from day 0 of .lumen as a company (May 2020). We won support and a 50k EUR grant and we are continuing through their programs. Just a few days ago we became the first Romanian company to receive EIC funding. Even when applying to EIC, we’ve got support from EIT. We got very far, in a very short time, because of partners such as FreshBlood and EIT Health.”, says Cornel Amariei, CEO & Founder of .lumen.

EIT Health can also be considered among the most important investors in healthcare innovation in Romania through the grants it offered in 2020 and 2021. At the same time, it’s a way for the startups and for the innovators to raise their level and to compete at a higher level than they used before. 

A number of Romanian startups have international collaborations with partners from Europe which they got through the EIT Health Network, which is essential if they want to understand where they are, what they need to do to grow and at the end to transform their knowledge and motivation into actual results.

Impact of EIT Health within the Romanian ecosystem

As per Dr. Ion Petrovai observations, everybody that got connected with the EIT Health has improved their way of thinking and have now a much more applied approach to innovation.

A lot of researchers see innovation as a way to put their knowledge and their results into the market, but the approach of EIT Health is that you need to start with the problem, and not with the results of your research. The research results might be very valuable, however they need to be connected to a problem, which is the most effective way to approach innovation especially in healthcare. This approach is changing the mindsets from ‘I’m smart and you need to listen to me’ to ‘Let me better understand what you need, and I will try to help you‘.

Another observed impact of EIT Health and EIT is that it creates a mindset of collaboration. The EIT’s HEI Initiative helps higher education institutions build the capacity to teach innovation and entrepreneurship. One of the cross-section programs that was launched this year is encouraging universities to collaborate and to build an ecosystem, a mindset of innovation in their institutions.

EIT Health is requesting specifically not only to do just classes with students, but to create a vision and to be committed to that vision. Two of the biggest universities in Cluj-Napoca, Babes-Bolyai University and the Technical University are now part of the higher education innovation EIT programs. 

Besides the financing that EIT Health is bringing to the ecosystem it is also pushing the stakeholders to collaborate, requesting a different approach to the projects: focus on the problem and not on an idea, because an idea is only as good as it solves a problem.

EIT Health and FreshBlood next steps to develop the healthTech ecosystem

FreshBlood will dedicate the next few years to accelerate collaborations between startups, other stakeholders and funding, aiming to become self-sustainable.

FreshBlood is now planning to build in Cluj-Napoca a Health Tech Hub for startups that need to get their reality check faster and to get potential collaborators from the medical field, doctors but not only, nurses, pharmacists, healthcare administrators, healthcare organizations, both in the private and in the public sector. The hub is to be launched at the beginning of 2022.

Becoming self-sustainable is another key goal of FreshBlood for next year, meaning that the ecosystem will need to find resources within. If it sees healthcare innovation as relevant and a priority, the ecosystem will need to prove this by putting resources on the table, meaning people, financing and access to facilities.

“We believe that the other stakeholders, like the companies and the local administration, should come forward with resources that can be used for everybody’s benefit. As an example, the infusion that the grant from EIC to .lumen will bring in the ecosystem (9.3 million euro), will impact us all even though we had different roles in the winning of the prize. There will be things built in our ecosystem and used in from that financing and this is our larger target, to build something valuable enough in order to attract funding and interest.”, says Dr. Ion-Gheorghe Petrovai.

Founder, editor in chief of Startups&TheCity.