Forward to Health Innovation

GSHI 2023

The event, ‘Connecting the UK and Croatia – Creating Opportunities for HealthTech Entrepreneurs’, marks a significant stride in fostering cross-border collaborations within the HealthTech realm. Organized under the auspices of British Embassy Zagreb, Smion and the Centre for Research, Development and Technology Transfer at the University of Zagreb, the gathering served as a platform for deliberations on the myriad opportunities awaiting HealthTech entrepreneurs in both nations. The event was held on October 25th 2023, at the University of Zagreb.

Event Opening

The UK Deputy Ambassador Helen Walker-Fleming’s opening remarks set the stage for meaningful dialogue. The testimonials from representatives of Croatian companies operating in the UK market provided a realistic glimpse into the entrepreneurial ecosystem of one of the world’s most vibrant economies. Deputy Ambassador Helen primarily shed light on the UK’s interest in evolving technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing, Semiconductor technology, Bioengineering, and 5G, underlining the UK’s eagerness to collaborate in these rapidly evolving domains. The event was graced by the presence of Mr. Thomas Mead, (Second Secretary- Political Division, British Embassy Zagreb ) and Ms. Diana Nimac, (Director-Department for Business and Trade, British Embassy Zagreb).

One notable panel explored strengthening the Croatian startup ecosystem through collaborations with the UK. The panel members featured Željko Riha (Founding & Managing Partner/Fractional CMO of Riha & Stamac Group). Notably, Željko’s formative years were marked by a profound enthusiasm for rugby, which subsequently cultivated a strong affinity with the United Kingdom. In 2017, he signed up for a UK based startup called BaseStone to build its marketing organization. Later the startup Secured numerous construction industry awards, including “Digital Construction Award Winner In The Best Application of Technology Category”. Professor Siniša Slijepčević, PhD, Founder & CEO of Cantab Pi, delved into the prospects of strengthening the Croatian startup ecosystem through collaborations with the UK. Professor Siniša emphasized the reciprocal benefits such collaborations could yield, especially in bringing valuable insights and practices back to Croatia. The panel discussed several positive attributes about the British work ethic and the efficiency of the government structure. The discussion further explored the supportive environment the UK provides for pharmaceutical and HealthTech startups, citing the ease of doing business and unparalleled access to data and knowledge as significant advantages.

Sharing Experiences

British entrepreneur and investor, Tony Kypreos, former Co-Founder of Digital Health venture (exit Optima Health) and Accelerator Springboard (exit TechStars) is focussed on Deeptech for human and planetary health related ventures, shared valuable insights on bridging companies across geographical divides, highlighting the potential for how ventures should consider internationalisation and market entry. As an Advisory Council Member and Venture Partner for, Kypreos aligns his work with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and his affiliation with University of Cambridge Judge Business School underscores his academic and professional depth, reinforcing his role as an advocate and mentor in the fields of sustainable development and entrepreneurship. He highlighted the UK government’s Global Entrepreneur Programme (GEP). This initiative helps high-growth overseas companies expand their operations to the UK, focusing on entrepreneurs or founders of innovative technology businesses outside the UK. The GEP offers comprehensive support, including mentoring by seasoned entrepreneurs, introductions to key networks and investors, and guidance on international growth. This support, provided by the Department of Business & Trade, includes ongoing assistance, particularly in exporting, after the business has been established in the UK. Kypreos’ emphasis on this program underlines its significance in fostering cross-border entrepreneurial ventures, especially applicable in the HealthTech and CleanTech sectors. He also gave an insight into how businesses across the globe are connecting with the UK and further discussed the importance of finding the right opportunity and the right founding team when starting a company.

Why the UK?

The UK’s business-friendly environment, underscored by ease of doing business and a supportive business community, emerged as a strong pull factor for prospective and established entrepreneurs alike. The discussion demonstrated how such conducive business environments could catalyze HealthTech innovations.

Panel Discussions

Engaging panel discussions featured during the event offered a deep dive into the practical aspects of establishing and growing HealthTech enterprises. The panels provided a fertile ground for nurturing ideas and understanding the dynamics of the UK and Croatian HealthTech landscapes.

GSHI Program and Future Prospects

Filip Stipancic, the Managing Partner at Smion, delved into the heart of the ‘Get Started in Health Innovation’ (GSHI) initiative, which forms part of the EIT Health (European Institute of Innovation and Technology) Pre-Acceleration Programme in Croatia. He presented an analysis of the local health innovation ecosystem, identifying a void in support for innovation and business startups within the health sector. Despite a proliferation of innovative ideas developed in early ideation programs, a significant number of these ideas stagnate due to a lack of comprehensive understanding concerning market needs, competition, and positioning. While the ecosystem is rich in knowledge and technology-based healthcare solutions, the rate of commercialization is disappointingly low, leading to many potentially transformative ideas failing to reach the patients they could benefit.

The GSHI program is designed to address these challenges by offering specialized support for startups in the healthcare industry, with a strong emphasis on validation and market entry. The program adopts an interdisciplinary approach, harnessing the resources of universities and industry partners. The support structure encompasses partners from various sectors including industry stakeholders, healthcare providers, and the academic community, all working in synergy to provide a robust platform for healthcare innovation.

A distinguishing feature of the program is its focus on creating an environment conducive for growth, and facilitating access to both the EU and international communities. Under the organizational helm of the University of Zagreb and Smion, the program boasts a dedicated team working to foster a structured ecosystem since 2013, with experiences spanning 12 countries. This network is further enriched by a community of mentors, contributing to a nurturing environment for healthcare startups.

The participant demographics of the program in 2023 indicated a balanced gender representation with 50% women, and a significant percentage of participants possessing a life-science background (65%), and a quarter being PhD or PhD students. This diversity underscores the program’s inclusivity and its ability to attract a broad spectrum of talent, crucial for driving innovation in healthcare.

Together, these initiatives as elaborated by Filip Stipancic, aim at not only bridging the existing gaps in the health innovation ecosystem but also propelling Croatia into a future where collaborative efforts yield tangible solutions for healthier lives in Europe. Through such concerted efforts, the pathway for transitioning innovative ideas from conceptualization to market-ready solutions becomes significantly smoother, promising a brighter horizon for HealthTech entrepreneurship in Croatia, and by extension, Europe.

As a part of the GSHI program, carried out in collaboration with Smion, the event also unveiled an upcoming initiative aimed at bolstering connections between healthcare innovators and entrepreneurs keen on exploring the burgeoning opportunities in one of the world’s most dynamic economies.

Connecting Early-stage Health Startups with the UK Ecosystem-the Value of First Impressions

A large portion of the event was devoted to the relationship between early-stage HealthTech startups and the UK’s innovation ecosystem, moderated by Vlatka Petrović, PhD (Head of the Technology Transfer Office at the University of Zagreb). The discussion panel comprised startup representatives from the ‘Get Started in Health Innovation’ Programme, Armin Atic, MD, Founder of MedQual Analytics, and Jakov Lonić, Founder of Novela Medica. Both Armin and Jakov recounted their recent exploratory trip to the UK, aimed at understanding the nuances of the UK’s HealthTech innovation ecosystem.

The panel shared valuable insights gleaned from their visit, shedding light on the synergies and contrasts between the Croatian and UK ecosystems. The trip facilitated a deeper understanding of the UK market, allowing them to experience first-hand the innovative culture, regulatory frameworks, and market dynamics that characterize the UK HealthTech sector. The discussions during this segment accentuated the importance of such exposure in broadening the horizons of Croatian entrepreneurs, providing them with a practical perspective on the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. The exchange of experiences and learnings fostered a rich dialogue on how Croatian startups could leverage the support mechanisms available in the UK, and potentially adapt some of the best practices to enhance the commercialization prospects of their innovative healthcare solutions back home.

This session underscored the significance of establishing initial connections and understanding the value of first impressions in fostering enduring relationships between HealthTech entrepreneurs and the broader UK innovation ecosystem. Through such interactions, the panelists illustrated the potential for nurturing a reciprocal relationship between the two nations, catalyzing a cross-pollination of ideas and resources conducive for the advancement of healthcare innovation.

Startup Development Lessons Learned

One of the illuminating sessions of the event underscored the stark difference between converting science into capital and vice versa, highlighting the need for a balanced approach in navigating the entrepreneurial landscape. A recurring theme was the imperative of assembling the right team, a factor whose importance cannot be overstressed. An intriguing proposition emerged with the concept of a ‘startup therapist,’ hinting at the necessity of nurturing a conducive psychological and operational setting for budding ventures.

A critical takeaway was the distinction between people’s ‘needs’ and ‘wants’, and the peril that conflating the two can pose to innovation. The session emphasized the vital role of customer discovery in mitigating such risks, ensuring that the solutions devised are resonant with market demands.

Delving into ecosystem development, the discussion underscored the value of international connectedness and engagement with innovation hubs as a means to combat challenges and foster growth. Talent development emerged as a key theme, with emphasis on fostering a conducive environment for nurturing and deploying talent effectively within the complex healthcare systems. The multifaceted complexities inherent in healthcare systems were acknowledged, alongside the indispensable role of expert guidance in navigating through these challenges towards achieving success in healthcare innovation.

Team formation and ensuring a harmonious founder fit were identified as critical determinants of a startup’s trajectory. The session also explored the intricacies of understanding and navigating the investment landscape, emphasizing the potential steps forward. These include nurturing established partnerships, facilitating market access for Croatian healthcare innovators, involving requisite expertise for talent development, and establishing relationships with investors open to supporting local healthcare innovations.

In the concluding session, Filip Stipancic elaborated on the envisaged pathway ahead, calling for a concerted effort in solidifying partnerships, broadening market access, and fostering a vibrant ecosystem conducive for healthcare innovation. The discourse provided a holistic insight into the lessons learned, and the strategic imperatives necessary for catalyzing a robust HealthTech entrepreneurial ecosystem in Croatia, thereby setting the stage for a promising future filled with innovative solutions for healthcare challenges.

The event not only provided a platform for exchanging ideas but also laid the groundwork for future collaborations. As health care innovation continues to be a pivotal domain, such initiatives accentuate the importance of global collaborations in propelling HealthTech to new heights, and in fostering a culture of shared learning and growth among the entrepreneurial communities of the UK and Croatia.

This outline sets the stage for a comprehensive discussion, shedding light on the event’s pivotal dialogues and the promising horizon of UK-Croatia entrepreneurial partnerships in the healthcare sector.

Author: Irendra Wijewardana