Morning Health Talks: best practices in fostering collaboration between startups and hospitals

Dr. Ion-Gheorghe Petrovai, Co-Founder and Director of Innovation at FreshBlood HealthTech

On the 25th of May 2023, FreshBlood HealthTech, the local representative of EIT Health in Romania organized in Cluj-Napoca an event part of their Morning Health Talks series, having as main theme “Hospitals and startups, joint drivers of healthcare innovation”. FreshBlood organizes two Morning Health Talks events per year, focused on how startups can help each other through sharing their achievements and problems.

The discussions of the first edition of this year were centered on real case studies, best practices and lessons learnt from different stakeholders – organizations, startups and hospitals – to boost healthcare innovation through collaboration between healthtech startups and hospitals.

The event started with an introduction of EIT Health and FreshBlood HealthTech priorities in 2023, by Dr. Ion-Gheorghe Petrovai. The Romanian NGO will focus this year on supporting an increase of health innovation capacity, while at the same time fostering engagement and generating inspiration in the healthtech community.

Dr. Ion-Gheorghe Petrovai also presented the Hubvantage program, launched at the beginning of 2022. Hubvantage is a personalized support program for HealthTech startup founders, with all year round activities specifically designed to help HealthTech startup founders get the support they need to move to the next level. The program offers founders: thorough needs assessment and identification of the immediate needs to address, personalized one-on-one mentoring with healthcare, technical mentors and relevant patients/users, the opportunity to be part of an exclusive club of health founders that inspire and support each other, specially designed events with relevant high quality content, access to opportunities and resources, national and international exposure through the consortium network.

The Hubvantage program is organized in collaboration by FreshBlood HealthTech, HIVE Center for Health Innovation of Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca and Activize and is supported by EIT Health.

Next speaker, George Megas, EIT Health HUB and Horizon Europe National Contact Points’ Coordinator at the National Documentation Centre, Athens, Greece explained how they encourage the collaboration between startups and hospitals in Greece.

George Megas, EIT Health HUB and Horizon Europe National Contact Points’ Coordinator at the National Documentation Centre, Athens, Greece.

“We are the EIT Health Hub in Greece, supporting startups in the healthcare sector, and students, trying to do that with the knowledge triangle integration model, connecting startups, industry, academia and research organizations. 

As a hub we have a variety of acceleration programs available for our community startups, depending on their maturity level. We have given more than a million euros to Greek startups through EIT Health in the last five years.

We have a lot of students participating in a variety of EIT Health programs, education programs, summer schools, campuses, we are among the first in recruitment of students EU-wide regarding EIT Health student and education programs. 

In today’s Morning Talk we’ve discussed mostly about how to connect startups with hospitals. EIT Health gave us a mandate last year to create a specific program for this. We selected the category of startups in hospitals and we created the SymbIASIS program.

SymbIASIS comes from the Greek words ‘symbiosis’ and ‘iasis’ which means healing. The goal was to connect the startups with some interesting parties inside the hospitals that were supporting the program, of course, not all Greek hospitals are in the program. We have public hospitals, private hospitals and we had 14 startups participating in 2022. We are going to have 15 more in 2023. In total, with the addition of eight more or seven more new hospitals and clinics this year, we’re going to have 15 hospitals and around 55 startups, and we’re going to do common events to put them in discussions. 

We are not going extremely deep in the technology connection, but we know what the startups are offering. We analyze their maturity and we know what the hospital’s needs through specific surveys, and we put them in common grounds like today’s events, we bring them together to events, we let them discuss.

The most important factor is to find the right person from the hospital with the right culture and mindset that likes and enjoys technology and he is technological savvy and he can understand the solution at hand provided by the startup. So it’s all about people. If you find the right people, then the connection can happen. But of course you have to overcome some regulatory issues or you have to have some procurement methodologies if you are talking with public hospitals. And these things can be overcome if you have the willingness to collaborate or if you have the culture to collaborate.

If you have the right technology, maybe the doctors that know about it and can understand it won’t say no to it, they will look at it, they will support it. And then maybe there are some pilots happening inside the hospitals. 

One other issue is funding, for example we have a startup with a new AI technology to support the anesthesiologist, they’re going to do some testing in some hospitals in Greece, but we are not sure if we can find funding for this. They’re doing it without funding just to collect some data and test their technologies. I think that the government should also support these efforts.The Ministry of Health, the hospital departments should allocate some funding in the innovation departments. They should have specific departments focusing on this. If they don’t have their own department on scouting for technologies then they can rely on EIT Health. We can scale the technology for them through SymbIASIS projects or other projects.”, said George Megas, EIT Health HUB and Horizon Europe National Contact Points’ Coordinator at the National Documentation Centre, Athens, Greece.

Next there were two online presentations, “How to prepare your startup for hospital collaboration” from Petros Papachristou (PhD), Chief Information Officer Hellenic Healthcare Group, Athens, Greece, while Dr. Ionut Nistor – Senior Nephrologist, lecturer at the “Grigore T. Popa” University of Medicine and Pharmacy Iasi, coordinator at MAVIS Techcenter transfer presented “Startup-hospital collaboration in Romania in 2023 – the UMF Iasi example”.

Petros Papachristou presented the needs in digital technology of a big group of hospitals, Hygeia Group in Greece, as its CIO. He stressed that a hospital needs to have in place a digital strategy, a business model for new solutions, to modernize the IT environment for all hospital basic functionalities and to have structured, medical codified data based on standards. Petros also presented case studies of successful implementations of digital services in their group of hospitals, like the Online Electronic Health Record or the Patient Experience Telemedicine.

Dr. Ionut Nistor presented the MAVIS Center for Innovation and Technology Transfer part of the at the “Grigore T. Popa” University of Medicine and Pharmacy Iasi, Romania, and some of the projects and activities of this technology transfer center. One of the challenges presented was the management of chronic patients and the process they went through to find solutions created by European startups to solve this problem, with the help of EIT Health.

The event continued with a startups panel with the topic “Collaborating with hospitals do’s and don’ts”, having as invited panelists Stefan Iarca – Co-founder & CEO Rayscape, Andrei Moldovan – Product & Account Manager at MediNav, Alexandru Lazar – Tech Executive and Founder Docviser.

Startups panel with the topic “Collaborating with hospitals do’s and don’ts”

It was very interesting to find from each of the startup founders, how they managed to create the first collaboration with a hospital.

“What has been very important for us was to find what they call an early adopter. We basically found a professor in our hometown of Timisoara, Romania, who was willing to give us a shot, to allow us to test our solution in their hospital, in their clinical environment. That was the point where, by having him and proving to him that the solution is indeed something that could work, it has been much easier from that point on to go to other hospitals and talk to them and say, look, we have this deployment here. The one crucial thing I would say is to get this early adopter to test your solution.”, said Stefan Iarca, Co-founder & CEO Rayscape.

“Once the startup was founded, and we had the MVP ready, we adopted a doctor in a private hospital. We sent him our solution to try it, and he was impressed with it. He also became part of the team. And then with his help, so a down top approach, we managed to get the interest of the hospital where he was working. There was a trial by fire, we entered the market and saw how the product would change or survive. We work now with around 15 hospitals, mainly with private clinics. But we also started working with the Ministry of Health and we have some pilot projects with state hospitals”, added Andrei Moldovan, Product & Account Manager at MediNav.

“We were kind of lucky because my co-founder is a doctor so our advantage was that we started from a real problem existing in hospitals, and we tackled it. Because he is the medical director,  we haven’t encountered any bureaucracy issues. We were able to launch the pilot program into a big county hospital. We had this opportunity to test our first version of the product one year and a half ago. With real data from real patients in the hospitals. We get some feedback. Of course, we had multiple iterations afterwards. It’s an ongoing process. We’re a software development company. So we know exactly what we’re doing. We know how to iterate on the process. So all we needed was the right feedback, from the real hospitals, to understand exactly what’s happening there and what are the challenges.”, said Alexandru Lazar, Tech Executive and Founder Docviser.

The final part of the event was dedicated to the presentation of “The patient feedback monitoring – a modern tool for health managers” by Dragos Vana – Founder

Adriana Dunca, RIS Program Manager FreshBlood

FreshBlood HealthTech, Cluj based NGO, is one of the main catalysts for healthcare innovation in Romania, supporting healthcare related startups since 2017. The NGO is also the hub of EIT Health in Romania starting from 2018.

Adriana Dunca, RIS Program Manager FreshBlood, explained the scope of the Morning Health Talks series of the events, and also informed of the other events and programs for startups they organize in Romania.

“We organize two Morning Health events per year, for this event our purpose was to have international speakers, local speakers and startups talking about how they work/collaborate with hospitals and their challenges and lessons learned. We focus a lot on startups helping each other through sharing information, sharing the process and sharing their problems. And I think we really accomplished that.

For this year, we will also have two satellite events in Techsylvania (How to tech in HealthTech – the startup way and GIPIA informal gathering) and also we will have HealthTech Next Generation #4 in December. So these are our major events. We also have the Hubvantage program in which we will have about four more events, and also the mentorship part. We’re also collaborating with LevelUP, the first Health & Life Sciences startup accelerator in Romania, where we are offering support and mentorship. We are also part of DIGIT-PRE – The European support programme for Innovative Solutions in Prevention, Prediction & Remote care. DIGIT-PRE combines 10 regional ecosystems (across 7 European countries) with diverse economic profiles. We helped identify and formulate the challenges and we still have a lot of things to do this year. 

We are always looking for new opportunities to help startups so we might just create new services/programs according to the feedback that we have. In whatever we do, we focus on the startups and with all the experience that we have, we see where we can help them improve. That’s how the Hubvantage program appeared. What we do is we try to connect the community and help them share information among them: startups, founders and mentors.”, said Adriana Dunca, RIS Program Manager FreshBlood.

Founder, editor in chief of Startups&TheCity.