Healthtech could be the disrupter that will put Finland squarely on the map
The growing trend of healthtech startups hit Finland last week as the venture capital firm Vertical broke out the inaugural round of their health and wellness accelerator in Espoo Finland. The accelerator, which is comprised of 11 startups that include three international teams, are focused on innovating in the fields of health and wellness, wearables, and smart home technologies. The project received over 140 applications from teams looking to join from Finland and 22 other countries across Europe.
Given the explosion of digital health startups in Finland, it’s actually surprising that this is the first healthtech focused accelerator there. An increasing number of Finnish entrepreneurs are shifting towards healthtech, with some key players believing that digital health is Finland’s next big move after gaming.
Heading up the accelerator are co-founders Sébastien Gianelli and Kenneth Salonius. The program is set to run for four months, and will culminate in November with an event where the teams can meet with investors and clients. Vertical has announced that they will invest €150,000 in the startups that show the most promise when the accelerator winds to a close.
As a part of the accelerator, the participating companies will have access to a wealth of resources including modern co-working facilities, guidance for navigating financial and legal hurdles, aid in reaching international distribution, and other forms of essential assistance to help them grow into successful businesses.
As the potential uses for mHealth and wellness innovations continues to grow exponentially, the sector is rapidly drawing more attention in the startup stratosphere. Explaining why they decided to enter into healthtech, Vertical’s Head of Portfolio Gianelli says that,”The health industry is among the most disruptive ones. With the emergence of technologies such as cloud, data, mobile, [and] sensors, the boundaries of health and wellbeing business are blurring and the convergence of ‘medical’ and ‘consumer’ is fascinating. Traditional health and adjacent business will be affected, shaped and in some cases redefined.”
Taking advantage of a supportive ecosystem
Vertical is hardly alone in their vision of healthtech opening up as a new frontier for startups looking for new opportunities. Cultivating a vibrant startup culture can be just as dependent on the resources and connections available to its members as having a creative pool of talent.
Recognizing the opening in the market, new partnerships with big name players like Samsung and Sonera have brought in important backing and support. Additional business entities like the logistics company Ingram Micro and the law-firm JB Eversheds have joined Vertical in helping to bring this project to the next level.
Speaking broadly on the quality of the ecosystem, Gianelli says that, “Espoo and Finland in general benefits from a great tech-focused entrepreneurship momentum right now. Slush, Startup Sauna, Tekes (The Finnish Funding Agency) have greatly contributed to the current situation,” adding that there is, “a large pool of established health tech companies like GE Healthcare, Philips, Planmeca and Bayer,” that help to create a stable business environment.
Reaching out beyond the corporate sphere, Vertical has a close relationship with the cities of Espoo and Helsinki, as well as the universities of Helsinki and Jyväskylä. Gianelli places a high value on their connection with the hospitals, saying that, “HUS (The hospital district of Helsinki and Uusimaa region) is the second biggest hospital group in the western world,” adding that, “They help us understand the market and select teams that can address real challenges. During the program they work out with our startups on testbed and pilot projects to ensure feedback and product validation from a ‘medical grade’ side viewpoint.”
In terms of government support, Vertical claims that they have not received any direct funding. However, Gianelli notes that the accelerator has benefitted from support from Tekes, which helps small businesses that are starting out, adding that the government considers the health sector to be a national priority.
Looking to the future
Each of the 11 current participants in the accelerator have brought with them innovative ideas that they hope will become market successes while at the same time improving their customers’ quality of life, and in some instances could in fact save them in an emergency. One such project is Beat2Phone, which develops, manufactures, and sells a 24/7 mobile ECG monitoring device for cardiac related syndromes. Another one that looks to make touch screens a little more sanitary is Nordic Hug with the first professional grade cleaners and disinfectants for touch screens. In an attempt to gamify fitness, the fitness tracker app from Fjuul uses a simple metric called Fjuul Points to show users how intense their daily activities have been.
The Vertical team expresses confidence in the future of Finland’s role in the healthtech industry. Gianelli cites figures that,“In 2014, exports of health tech grew 8.3% to a new record of €1.8 billions. With exports continuing to grow faster than imports, Finland’s trade surplus in health tech product widened 11% to a record €829 million. For a small country like Finland with the decline of the handset and forest businesses many like to bet on Health to become our next Mobile Gaming.”
Where do they go from here?
The crew at Vertical has created something truly beautiful with their newest venture, bringing together a mix of talent as they delve into this experiment that could kickstart the healthtech startup scene in Espoo, perhaps even establishing a second pole to the hub in Helsinki.
With an impressive multilayered ecosystem there to support them, it will indeed be an exciting four months as the sector waits for their 11 participants to bear fruit with their innovative ideas.
Photo Credit: Vertical