Finland’s first healthtech accelerator looks at how to fix the broken medical system with innovations from startups
The Vertical accelerator in Espoo, Finland drew a robust crowd on Tuesday when they hosted End Game, bringing speakers from the fields of health care and technology. The theme of the late afternoon gathering revolved around the recognition throughout the health care industry that a shift is underway from simply treating diseases as they become emergencies, to a system that looks at health and wellness as a holistic cycle of monitoring and prevention based on healthier living.
Responding to this trend, a new sector has popped up in conjunction with health care providers to develop devices aimed at making the public more aware of their health throughout their day-to-day routine. By monitoring factors like their diet, sleep, and activity, individuals can adjust their lifestyles to establish better habits for being healthy.
The global electronics company Philips is working to develop devices through their investment and support of startups that will help consumers keep track of their health, and make staying healthier both cheaper and easier to follow through on.
Making healthcare sustainable
One of the concerns that was voiced at the event pertained to the need to create more cost effective solutions as the world’s population continues to grow. Edgar van Zoelen, who leads Philips’ HealthSuite Labs division, spoke about a report by the United Nations predicting that there will be 9.6 billion people living on this earth by the year 2050. According to the report, this current number will jump from 7.2 billion to around 8.2 in only the next 12 years.
With an increasingly connected world, there is an understanding that all people must have access to basic medical care. In his talk, van Zoelen noted that if health care costs continue to rise at the rate they are now, then this care will be nearly impossible to provide. He pointed to the economic benefits of moving away from the old model and towards what he termed the health continuum.
The hope of this model is based on the idea that by focusing on preventing disease through healthier living, it will cut down on the need for more costly intervention at the point of treatment when a serious health problem arises.
This is to say that if a person eats healthier, gets more exercise and sleeps better, then they will be less prone to developing illnesses.
Merging corporate resources with startup innovation
The HealthSuite Labs initiative at Philips is representative of how large companies that are already engaged in the healthtech sector are opening their doors to team up with startups.
Vertical Co-Founder Sebastien Gianelli spoke with Geektime at SLUSH on how they see their role in making these connections. “Vertical is trying to connect the dots to help the small companies that have the speed and creativeness to innovate, and help them integrate with the large companies that have the ability to help them scale,” he explains, “The big corporations often have the technology and the distribution and manpower if needed to scale up the business.”
“We are essentially helping both sides of the equation,” says Gianelli. “Not all of these big companies come from the healthcare business, but others as well like mobile companies. They can connect with young companies that can bring added value. On the other side, we give these young companies access to these big corporations. When you’re a young company, it can be very difficult for them to open the doors. We want to offer these young companies the chance to validate their products from both a technology and business point of view.”
To have the widest reach possible with partners who can work in concert with each other, Vertical has teamed up with big players in a diverse set of industries that include Samsung, Ingram Micro, and Finnish mobile service provider Sonera.
“If you look at health tech, you need a wide set of components to become valuable,” notes Gianelli. “Working with these big companies and institutions, they can validate their ideas and gain valuable feedback.”
At Vertical, startups can already start running pilots with the accelerator’s partners like Samsung. This way, when they go to investors, they can start raising money against a product milestone versus projections as you would at a standard accelerator.
It is worth mentioning that not all of the companies at Vertical want to work directly with the health care system, preferring to sell directly to consumers. In their pool of mentors, they have people who can help them navigate the regulations and other hurdles to this often tricky market.
The next round of applications is set to open in December, with the new year starting in March 2016. They want to move from their current stable of 11 companies to 15, but say that they are not looking to grow beyond their effective capacity.
Bringing health care to the developing world
While many of the technologies are aimed at helping people in the first world live longer and more independently, others are looking for solutions that address the third world. Matthew Holt of Health 2.0 discussed three companies that are working to bring medical services to the places that would be otherwise off the grid.
In his talk, Holt gave the example of Israeli MobileODT, whose device allows nurses in the field to conduct cervical cancer tests, helping them catch cases early and earn payments for their services. The device doubles as a forensic examiner for documenting cases of sexual assault. He also cited the mobile eye examiner EyeNetra and Health eVillages that distributes used tablets to personnel in Africa so they can receive updated medical resources.
Without a doubt, healthtech will likely continue to blossom as the major players like Philips and the hospital systems recognize the value in partnering with startups to find new and cost effective innovations to health care.
This is not to say that this will be a linear path, as adoption of many of the consumer related products will likely still take time. While devices like the Fitbit have grown in popularity, many of the devices being marketed to the consumers are still at too high a price point for them to be relevant on a wide scale.
In speaking with some of the companies based out of Vertical, each one appears to bring a different approach to how they want to impact health care, whether in mental health, hygiene, nutrition, or accessibility. Stay tuned to read the profiles of the four companies interviewed at End Game. At this point, the field is expansive enough to incorporate them all as they seek out new ideas to advance the public’s health around the globe.