Startups Affiliated with the de:hub Initiative Advance Digital Health Innovation for the German Economy
Connecting Healthcare IT (conhIT) is Europe’s top event for Health IT. Between April 17 to 19th 2018, nearly 500 exhibitor booths attracted 9000 visitors to the Messe Berlin convention center. Attending conhIT offered key insights on where the German health economy is heading. Particularly, a Germany Trade & Invest panel at conhIT featuring startups affiliated with the de:hub showed how the country's future health economy advances faster when government, businesses, research and entrepreneurial efforts align.
Tucked inside one of 4 large wings of the building, among eye-catching displays demonstrating digital health advancements by well-known companies like 3M, GE, SAP, Philips, Siemens, Roche, Deutsche Telekom and others, was a modestly-sized but ideologically significant panel entitled, “The Future of Digital Health: Discover the Digital Hub Initiative.”
This International Networking session, hosted by Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI) – the economic development agency of the Federal Republic of Germany – explored opportunities at the intersection of digital health and business. GTAI advises and supports foreign companies who plan to expand into the German market. Why? Because the German market is ripe for change with new opportunities, especially in the health economy. This is mostly due to a vibrant startup scene, new partnerships, and a fluctuating legal framework.
The panel was also supported by the Digital Hub Initiative, (de:hub initiative), a progressive initiative from Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. GTAI promotes the initiative internationally and supports international startups in joining the initiative. This digital initiative combines innovative entrepreneurship, corporate enterprise resources, and research institutions to drive digital business opportunities that add cultural and economic value. The initiative connects 12 hubs located throughout Germany that each reflect regional technological expertise. Here in Berlin, the de:hub focuses on IoT and Fintech, with Next Big Thing, Factory Berlin and Fraunhofer Institute comprising the IoT portion.
Both the pitches and panel proved that connections forged by startups within and across these hubs are generating progress.
What's Trending and Shaping the Health Economy?
This specialized conhIT panel brought together startups from around Germany who are active in different de hubs (Nuremburg, Leipzig, Munich, Mannheim and Berlin), and asked them to share their stories and discuss their perspective on how to overcome challenges in order to advance digital health innovation in Germany.
The format included a set of energetic 4-minute pitches followed by an engaging discussion that brought to light what startups are doing to utilize this network of innovation hubs to overcome common challenges in funding and regulations, and bring great ideas to fruition through effective collaboration.
- In hearing the pitches, certain important trends stood out: Personalized Therapies, Patient’s Choices in Care and Insurance, & Connected Elderly Care
- During the panel, challenges that German digital health startups face reveal both roadblocks and their solutions.
TRENDS IN PITCHES:
Planning Personalized Therapeutics:
Veronica Schweighart, co-Founder and CEO of Climedo believes therapies need personalization. She says hospitals tend to risk being error-prone and with less drugs produced in house by pharma, comes a loss of control and lack of revenue prediction. Her solution involves targeted and customized therapies according to patient DNA in a growing gene therapy market. Climedo’s software gives intelligent guidance for doctors of real-time status updates on their patients and uses data insights for more precise revenue predictions.
Veronica studied at the Center for Digital Tech and Management (CTDM) in Munich, which is turning out lots of successful entrepreneurs with its interdisciplinary approach and community building atmosphere. She says being part of the Munich hub has been integral to her startup’s initial success.
Preserving Patient Choice, Despite Time Constraint:
Paul Brandenburg, CEO from DIPAT, or Die Patientenverfügung (roughly translated as “Living Will”), delivered a rousing call for ensuring that patients get desired care services we want, even when they can’t verbalize in the moment what that is. For example, due to an injury or loss of consciousness. His startup seeks to deliver effective wills, forbidding hospitals from taking actions we don’t want, but allowing what we have designated. So how does this happen? People enrolling in this service go through an online, in-depth questionnaire offering advice on how to navigate choices one faces upon entering a hospital. The advanced Q & A takes into account medical conditions shared with the system. Paul is an ER doctor who understands what type of issues or questions people commonly face.
For a yearly fee, that information becomes part of your online profile which is accessed via a hyperlink address indicated on your health insurance card. The card would regardless be viewed by a treating doctor at the point of service. Timing is crucial here, as life-saving care decisions happen immediately and not 3 days later- the usual time it takes to access such living will documents.
Connected Elderly Care
Jurgen Besser from MOIO care develops connected sensors to be placed in a small case, positioned in the lower back area. The sensor detects situations where care is needed, ensures geofencing to ensure people are where they need to be, and provides fall prevention and detection. Their technology includes an accelerator gauger, bluetooth and GPS, and the device has a battery life of 2-days.
Jens Grudno, CEO and founder of Assistr Digital Health, a healthcare venture from Berlin-based IoT and blockchain company builder Next Big Thing, is also addressing care issues with connected solutions. Assistr deals with some tough facts: as we age, 70% of people deal with incontinence issues, and care for that topic has not evolved.
Jens asks: How can we better care for the people who cared for us? The ratio of care providers to patients is very low in many settings, leaving people to sit in wet undergarments for far too long. No it’s not a sexy topic, but it is an important one. This is not only uncomfortable and unhygienic, it can lead to skin problems and internal infections for a rising global aging population. To deal with all this, Assistr is developing a comprehensive care system with their Panni smart incontinence pants providing ‘predictive maintenance’ for incontinence care. It reduces stress for both patient and caregiver and reduces costs through timely notifications to change undergarments and avoid further problems.
Assistr has found an intriguingly affordable way to print sensors that measure what, and where liquid is, with the sensor integrated into a tiny chip. This development has been accelerated by the venture’s status as part of NBT, where they can access technology skills and partners from NBT’s ecosystem and network. As a core member of the de:hub for IOT in Berlin, NBT offers ventures access to a wide and connected community. Assistr is currently preparing a pilot with Charité in Berlin and has just received a new round of investment.
Florian Bontrup from DOCYET broke down the definition of a ‘full-stack digital health insurance.’ As we know, healthcare is complex and he says people need personalized, time-sensitive advice delivered via chat to solve patient problems at the right point in time.
Felix Franz presented new research through MediNet.IT which develops software to structure research guidelines.
PANEL: The de:hub Benefits Startups in Overcoming Challenges
Panelist shared their unique views on what’s working and what needs changing. It’s clear that startup founders still face challenges, but their involvement with the de hub offers a network which supports their efforts and increases the odds of success. Here’s what they had to say:
Florian reports that being involved in Leipzig and Dresden’s ‘smart systems/smart infrastructure” hub makes that part of Germany the ‘spot to make business.’ Insurance companies drop by and guidance is readily provided. This is especially important for first-time founders, and the entire panel agreed on this point. Florian recommends ‘get it on the road; be ambitious.’ He suggests having a context-aware advisor who can help. He says that because what he is doing is hard, there are not so many people doing it. He suggests using social media to pose questions, and basically ‘do what is allowed.’
Felix says getting integrated into clinics and hospitals is the biggest hurdle in setting up a new standard for transporting medical information. Status as part of the de hub will hopefully continue to help in this area.
Paul confirms the biggest roadblock in Germany is over regulation. This feels enormous to most of the founders. Paul says ‘data security is crucial, and at the core of what we do...In Germany we ignored a lot of things, and now we need to catch up.” Patients need to own their data but they also need a way to share their documents appropriately. He points to the Baltic countries who are successfully doing that already.
In agreement with Paul, Jurgen says “you can’t wait for insurance, or you’re done.” Like Jens, he focuses on the business market rather than insurance markets for now. If insurers recognize the value in say 3 years time, then great!
Jens says Assistr was founded in a digital space network where the connections are quite good. NBT has provided the mentorship, expertise and connections necessary for a strong start. As a medtech startup based in an IoT hub, Assistr’s interactions with non-med-tech companies have actually been quite formative: they’ve been able to make big leaps regarding sensory tech, mass production, stability, and UX for nurses and caretakers.
Integration into the de:hubs is proving formative for these startups. It is a good sign of how cooperation among entrepreneurs, corporates, and research is the way forward for Germany’s health economy.
Ideally with the official de:hub acknowledgement of the German government, more progress can be made in the country’s legal and political framework to advance efforts that healthcare and other startups are making.
Let’s hope to see more of that collaboration. Are you also working in that direction? We'd love to hear about it.
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