Romanian HealthTech ecosystem, 2022 year in review

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Synaptiq.io, the winner of the local phase of the Global StartupCities competition, a HealthTech startup that manages to reduce the time to outline structures on computed tomography by 95%

In 2022 the Romanian HealthTech ecosystem grew in maturity and got more visibility on the European map of HealthTech innovation, with the support of catalyst organizations like FreshBlood and ROHealth and through the achievements of MedTech startups like re.flex. The ecosystem has seen in 2022 the launch of Hubvantage, a new mentorship program with the objective of capacity building at the level of the healthtech ecosystem and of BIOdyssey, a hub dedicated to healthcare innovation.

Together with Dr. Ion-Gheorghe Petrovai, Co-Founder and Director of Innovation at FreshBlood HealthTech, the local NGO representing EIT Health in Romania, we reviewed the main highlights of the Romanian HealthTech ecosystem in 2022.

Launch of the Hubvantage mentorship program

Launched at the begining of 2022, Hubvantage is a program organized in collaboration by FreshBlood, HIVE Center for Health Innovation of Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca and Activize that has the objective of capacity building at the level of the HealthTech ecosystem. 

The program is supported by EIT Health and helps health tech founders get reality based feedback from mentors and from more advanced startup founders from the health tech ecosystem.

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

“Until now we’ve organized seven events that had the purpose of exposing the founders to relevant information, both technical and activity based from the more advanced founders, as well as exposing the doctors with HealthTech, to the innovation mindset and methodology, and examples of innovation from the ecosystem. We are also organizing mentorship sessions based on an evaluation of startup needs that are answered by relevant mentors as well as more advanced founders.”, says Dr. Ion-Gheorghe Petrovai, Co-Founder and Director of Innovation at FreshBlood HealthTech, the local NGO representing EIT Health in Romania.

Re.flex, a Romanian HealthTech startup included in the apps approved to be reimbursed in Germany through the DiGA system

In 2022, Romania got more visible on the map of HealthTech innovation and one of the examples is re.flex, a Romanian startup which was included in the apps approved to be reimbursed in Germany through the DiGA system. 

DiGAs are “apps on prescription”, digital health applications that can be prescribed by doctors for patient use for a variety of diagnoses. The introduction of DiGAs is quite revolutionary, and Germany has officially introduced a legal framework to include digital health care innovation into primary care.

re.flex unlocks pre and post knee & hip surgery rehabilitation, offering instant 3D feedback to help patients exercise correctly

re.flex is the most accurate digital assistant for MSK physical therapy on the market. It helps patients treat knee, hip and lower back pain effectively and lasting, using validated exercise protocols. With proven results in reducing pain and improving the quality of life, re.flex offers instant 3D feedback to help patients exercise correctly.

In March, FreshBlood organized an event called Morning Health Talks, which talked specifically about the re.flex achievement of being accepted into DiGA. And this provided a lot of inspiration for potential founders by showcasing the example of the re.flex founder, Camil Moldoveanu, and his team.

“When we started five years ago with FresBlood, we wanted to put Romania on the map. And I do believe that re.flex is the proof of innovation made in Romania that can become a reference in much more advanced markets.”, says Dr. Ion-Gheorghe Petrovai from FreshBlood HealthTech.

FreshBlood, part of an international consortium with the purpose of identifying and consolidating a portfolio of demand led solutions for the healthcare ecosystem

Recently, FreshBlood became part of an international consortium called DIGIT-PRE, made up of 10 different partners, with the objective to build a collaboration between different partners with the purpose of identifying and consolidating a portfolio of demand led solutions to digitize prevention, prediction and remote care in the healthcare ecosystem. 

The project is focused on the development of the local ecosystem through a call named Interventional Innovation Investment. This consortium is coordinated by ISAB INNOVATION SKANE from Sweden and includes partners from France, Belgium, Finland, Portugal and as well as Hungary and Romania.

FreshBlood is a key actor in the Romanian HealthTech ecosystem, facilitating as well the collaboration between various actors

“DIGIT-PRE is one of the highlights of the Romanian HealthTech ecosystem, not just for the end of 2022, but will be one of the highlights in the future. We are very happy to be one of the representatives of the Eastern Europe, putting Romania again on the map of healthcare innovation. We are looking forward to connecting this opportunity with the smart specialization strategy of the North-West Region of Romania, but as well as with other regions of Romania.”, says Dr. Ion-Gheorghe Petrovai from FreshBlood HealthTech.

Healthcare innovation was identified as one of the three priorities of the smart specialization strategy for the Nord-West Region of Romania, so the participation of FreshBlood in the consortium is well in sync with the expectations of growth of the regional ecosystem.

“FreshBlood is a main regional actor for the ecosystem, and its actions of identifying and consolidating a portfolio of demand led solutions for the healthcare ecosystem are filling an important gap between various actors. The strengthening of FreshBlood as an organization, especially with a participation in an international consortium is very well welcomed and in direct correlation with the expectations of growth of our ecosystem. After a rigorous process, health was identified as one of the three priorities of the Smart Specialization Strategy for the Nord-West Region of Romania. So, sustaining the regional HealthTech ecosystem with specific actions correlated with the main needs for its growth is a key area of focus for RDA North-West. This focus is provided through the action plan of the RIS3, including the North-West Regional Programme for 2021-2027 programming period.”, said Cristian Otgon, Head of Smart Specialization Department at North-West Regional Development Agency of Romania.

The North-West Regional Development Agency of Romania, together with Digital Innovation Zone from Iași, was also part of the EIT Health DRIVE program in 2022, designed to upskill organizations from Central-Eastern and Southern Europe in designing validated, sustainable health & life science startup support programmes tailored to regional needs.

Global StartupCities eHealth Program 2022 announced its winner

Global Startup Cities eHealth program was organized by the Hive Center for Health Innovation together with Cluj-Napoca City Hall and Linnify, identifying and supporting startups in the early stage in order to validate their solution through a model that was proposed by Linnify.

This multi-stage EU eHealth startups competition is a chapter of the Global StartupCity Cluj-Napoca and it’s designed to help early stage health innovation entrepreneurs transform their ideas into world changing companies, faster and smarter. Within this program, Cluj-Napoca is taking care of the healthcare and AI components.

The program and the final competition took place in October 2022 and the winning startup, Synaptiq.io, was promoted through the network of global startup cities at the Unique Summit conference in Braga, Portugal, at the end of November. 

“Global StartupCities Health Initiative means for the city of Cluj-Napoca an amazing opportunity to develop and offer support to the regional ehealth ecosystem, by providing to startups customized training and mentoring through its support process. Additionally, the winner of the StartupCities competition will benefit by support for scientific validation and medium-term mentoring.”, says Razvan M. Chereches, MD PhD, Director HIVE Health Innovation Center.

A growth of maturity at the level of the national HealthTech ecosystem

We are seeing a growth of maturity at the level of the national HealthTech ecosystem with some opportunities potentially provided by the Recovery and Resilience Plan for Romania (PNRR) financed by the EU. The telemedicine norms have been released at the end of September and there is hope that Romanian telemedicine startups will also benefit from the implementation of this regulation. 

The end of the year also saw the launch of BIOdyssey, an innovation hub based in Bucharest, which is dedicated to healthcare and it is supported both by the university environment as well as by know-how brought from the USA, but filtered in Israel for a better connection with the environment in Eastern Europe. This hub will train innovators and later on provide the additional funding solutions to the innovators that are actually growing their project at the fundable level.

Elena Ovreiu speaking at the Medcare Leadership Conference  in Bucharest about the BIOdyssey mission and vision: empowering innovators through an entrepreneurial ecosystem in MedTech

“BIOdyssey is the first hub focused on innovation in HealthTech in Romania, founded with experts in the field from Israel and the US. Through BIOdyssey we want to help those Romanians who want to develop HealthTech solutions and have an impact on healthcare with the help of technology, by offering them all tools and assistance they need to succeed: an innovation framework which has been tested and validated for many years in Israel, access to international experts in the technical, medical and business fields from Israel, the USA and Japan (among others) to mentor our teams, to help them with identifying and validating ideas that are competitive at a global level and to give them support on the technical and business implementation of those ideas. Concretely, this would include helping entrepreneurs find investors in their field, and opportunities to access our international network of hospitals and accelerators. BIOdyssey offers all of this through 2 distinct programs: the Germination program, which has already started and can be compared to a “Mini MBA for startups” focused on identifying and validating business ideas. The acceleration program follows the 1st, and is focused on accelerating the most promising ideas and teams from the Germination program. Though startups which have not gone through the Germination program are also eligible to apply. BIOdyssey is the bridge in HealthTech between Romania and the most innovative ecosystems in HealthTech in the world: Israel and the US.”, says Elena Ovreiu, co-founder and CEO BIOdyssey.

One other highlight of autumn was the annual hackathon for health organized by the Medical University in Bucharest together with support from Johnson & Johnson. This hackathon once again showed the potential of Romanian innovators to solve relevant problems. Another hackathon, EIT i-Days, was organized in Cluj-Napoca, at the Hive Center for Health Innovation, with support by EIT Health. The event focused on neurology and enjoyed the collaboration with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in the jury at the final presentation.

The ecosystem saw activity also at the level of clusters, the healthcare clusters now having their regular conference, at the end of October. Not only a conference where you see people from different institutes of research or from different companies which are focused on innovation in healthcare, but an opportunity to connect to international organizations to explore the partnerships and see potential opportunities of developing your own projects. The BEhealth conference organized by ROHealth cluster, is now an important part of the ecosystem, with FreshBlood and EIT Health supporting both the educational session as well as the international startup competition that took place in the conference.

“Our focus for the next year is very much linked with sustainability. Because in the future there will be less and less money coming from the EU to support innovation. And we need to find internal resources both public and private. And this is going to be done only through partnerships. We are beginning to explore partnerships with potential other players in the ecosystem. We will prepare a fundraising campaign for the beginning of the next year, as well as building on the projects that have been visible and that can make a difference in healthcare in Romania, Europe and in the world.”, says Dr. Ion-Gheorghe Petrovai, Co-Founder and Director of Innovation at FreshBlood HealthTech.

Founder, editor in chief of Startups&TheCity.