Digital Health Blog talked to one of the well-known leaders in the Finnish health innovation ecosystem, Christian Lardot. Christian wears several hats: he is Senior Business Advisor at NewCo Helsinki, a governmental business advisory organization, and also Incubator Lead in Health Incubator Helsinki – the latter being the part of Health Capital Helsinki (HCH) initiative and the subject of our today’s interview. Christian is specialized in Health, Wellbeing, Life Sciences and has a vast experience of working with startups in these industries. He held various managerial positions in Life Sciences and MedTech – in such companies as Schering, Bayer Roche and Orion Corporation – in Finland and USA. Today, as the Health Incubator leader, Christian shares his view on the startups development within the Finnish health ecosystem.
Before we start, let’s discover more about Finland: why it’s relevant to talk about digital health on the example of this country and what are NewCo, Health Incubator Helsinki and HCH doing to support the Finnish startup ecosystem.
Facts Check about Finland, NewCo and Health Capital Helsinki
- Finland is constantly rated as the country with one of the best education systems and strongest health technology economies in the world.
- It is the 3rd most innovative country in the world according to Bloomberg Innovation Index 2019. A famous mobile networks and technology pioneer, Finland is placed among the leaders in European 5G innovation – and a few weeks ago Nokia has been selected by NASA to build the cellular network on the Moon.
- Finland is the exemplary country when it comes to the electronic health record (EHR). The coverage of EHR across the country is 100% in both public and private healthcare facilities, thanks to the eGovernment strategy adopted in 2015.
- The unique network of 10 biobanks cover the whole country and one of the most progressive legislation systems enable the secondary use of data for research purposes but protecting the patients.
- Finnish health / medtech startups and companies make up a noticeable line up: MVision, Nightingale, Oura, Nanoform, MediSapiens, Aiforia, Osgenic, Planmeca, and more. A big part of global big pharma companies is present in Finland: Bayer, Novartis, Johnson& Johnson, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Takeda, MSD.
- There are a number of Finnish governmental and public organizations dedicated to support the entrepreneurs and attract investors to the country. One of them is NewCo Helsinki that was established by the City of Helsinki in 2014 and offers a wide range of entrepreneurship support services in all business areas.
- Health Capital Helsinki is another initiative focused on growing the health sector related activities in the greater capital area. HCH is an alliance between City of Helsinki, Helsinki University Hospital, the University of Helsinki, Aalto University, City of Espoo and applied sciences universities. HCH facilitates networking, collaboration, and commercialization of scientific research. Health Incubator Helsinki is one of the results of this initiative.
Why there was a need for Health Capital Helsinki?
9 out of 10 conversations about Finland start with Nokia. So does our talk with Christian:
-Finland is quite well positioned on the European level when it comes to digitalization, and to a great extent this is connected to the Nokia heritage. After the corporation shifted away from the mobile phone business, its employees contributed to the creation of the new companies following the same world class and science-based approach, part of them in health industry – even the electronics behind Oura ring is developed by an ex-Nokia startup team.
So, we have a good entrepreneurial resource and we have a developed ecosystem of highly educated and skilled individuals, universities, research institutions, pharma and medtech companies, laboratories and hospitals. There network of hospitals is vast indeed: it consists of the Helsinki University Hospital, City Hospitals, private hospitals and clinics. City of Helsinki offers another unique resource, “Fiksu Kalastama”, which is a test environment providing various innovation labs for pilot projects, also health-related. Metropolia, one of the applied science universities, offers a new concept called “Proof Health” – a real hospital environment for testing and research. In addition, there is also a big presence of international pharma and diagnostics companies.
One of the challenges, that is actually common to all ecosystems, is the lack of coordination between different players. Hence, Health Capital Helsinki was created in order to boost this coordination.
The eternal question: accelerator or incubator?
Health Incubator Helsinki was launched in 2020. The first batch of 11 companies started in June 2020 and the selected startups can stay in the program for up to 3 years.
– The right name for our startup development program is an incubator because our primary objective is to advise early university spin-offs or research teams to grow their business. But based on the way our operations are organized, we are a combination of an incubator and accelerator.
Why it’s a combination? Our health startups are, indeed, at a very early stage, but the teams are formed by experienced people, many of them having business track record as well. They don’t need to go through all the basics, such as Lean Canvas or how to pitch your presentation.
Thus, at Health Incubator Helsinki we tailor all the mentoring sessions to the companies’ needs. We are constantly discussing with the startups and evaluating the needs they have. We aim to provide the companies with the best advice available using both our own network and selected experts in any given topic. In addition, our role is also to leverage our connections and make introductions to the Finnish and international investors and stakeholders.
The program and further development
-The combination of the incubator and accelerator format is effective for everyone. We do not want to take time from the startups by constantly organizing training events and workshops – instead we concentrate on topics that provide value. This approach is feasible as we only have 11 startups in the program (in February 2021 we are planning to launch the second batch and add another 10 companies).
We are in a process of building cooperation with all the players in the health ecosystem both in the greater capital area and on a national level. One of these collaborations is with ProHealth Growth in Turku (check our article to learn more about ProHealth). For instance, when ProHealth is organizing sessions which are in line with our program, they invite all of our companies and vice versa.
At Health Incubator Helsinki we have dedicated business advisors for each team. We organize 2-3 training sessions each month and meet the teams regularly with monthly meetings to evaluate their progress. The startups are free to stay up to 3 years, however, once they have received a major investment, have hired more people and showed traction, they will be able to operate on their own.
The ultimate goal of Health Incubator Helsinki is to support the growth of the new companies. Our results are also measured by the City of Helsinki and we want to demonstrate the value we add to the system by boosting innovation, discovering new talents and attracting more resources to Finland.
In the long term we will try to become the key health hub in Finland. And of course, helping health startups constitutes a very good reputation value for the city together with being a catalyst for the business growth.