During the COVID-19 crisis, start-ups have continued to play a critical role for economies. Some of them reacted fast and flexibly to the pandemic, and were critical in helping many countries shift towards fully digital work, education, and health services. However, many of them also faced uncertainty, as investors backed down from promises, directly challenging their survival, and limiting their growth.
As part of the EIT Crisis Response Initiative, the EIT Health Start-up Rescue Instrument was specifically designed to fill in this gap by increasing investor firepower and bridging the fundraising gap of start-ups in Series A, Series B and bridge-financing rounds. 11 start-ups across Europe were awarded up to €500 000, to continue developing solutions in cancer, infectious diseases, wound and joint care, medical imaging, and cardiovascular disease. Among them, Portabiles Healthcare Technologies, Volumina Medical and Hemotune come from the DACH region. Six months later, let’s see where they are standing.
1. Looking back, why did you apply for the Startup Rescue Instrument and how was your startup affected by the COVID-19 outbreak?
Ralph Steidl, Portabiles Healthcare Technologies: With the Covid-19 crises becoming recognized a global pandemic, institutional investors quite intensely focused on their existing portfolio and did not add further companies to their portfolio. Business angels that were interested suddenly suffered from stock-markets drops and were not able to sell stock without loss. Therefore our Series A round was at risk.
Lukas Langenegger, Hemotune: We applied to the Startup Rescue Instrument because the COVID-19 outbreak brought a lot of uncertainty and risks for investors and startups alike.
Amélie Béduer, Volumina Medical: We applied for the Startup Rescue Instrument because we needed to raise funds and our existing investors could not support us as much as they wished. The co-investment principle of the Rescue Instrument was the perfect opportunity to attract new investors and close a fundraising round that can have a strong impact on our development.
2. Fast forward to December 2020, how did the funding mechanism help alleviate the shock posed by the pandemic?
Ralph Steidl, Portabiles Healthcare Technologies: EIT-Health’s investment helped to finalize our home-monitoring system as a medical device. We can sell it now and the revenues further help us towards our reimbursement strategy in Germany.
Lukas Langenegger, Hemotune: We were lucky that we were able to close a significant Series A round with a very good consortium of investors and the participation by EIT Health. This was key to keep us on track with our development goals. Furthermore, the EIT funding allowed us to analyze how to apply our technology to treat COVID-19. Actually, we learned through a lot of literature review and interviews that most of the intensive care treated COVID-19 patients are likely to benefit from our treatment.
Amélie Béduer, Volumina Medical: The funding enabled us to keep our team of engineers and regulatory and clinical affairs specialists working on the development of our core product and perform the validations and verifications required for using our device safely in human patients in the close future. It helped us to not slow down our development to maintain our competitive advantage and continue to develop our solution for improving the quality of life of millions of breast cancer patients every year.
3. From a blood purification device to a tissue reconstruction technology, all of you touch upon various aspects of healthcare. Can you tell me what is the major benefit of your solution for the healthcare system and society as a whole?
Ralph Steidl, Portabiles Healthcare Technologies: Monitoring the quality of gait of Parkinson’s patients in their daily activities gives doctors precise information on the symptom occurrences. This will help them to personalize the complex medication three times faster. Patients will suffer less from symptoms like “freezing of gait” (where they can’t move at all), from hyperkinesia (where they can’t control their movements) and resulting falls. This will save hospital costs and improve the quality of life of the patients.
Lukas Langenegger, Hemotune: We develop a breakthrough multi-target blood purification treatment for septic shock. Sepsis is a life-threatening dysregulated immune response to an infection and affects 50 million people every year. Due to a lack of treatment options the mortality rates even in the most developed countries reach 50% for septic shock and 11 million people die from sepsis every year. This is actually 20% of all global deaths. Also, severe COVID-19 patients develop sepsis, which further highlights the actuality and importance of this devastating condition. With our treatment, we aim at restoring proper immune function in these patients, get them out of the intensive care units faster, and improve survival rates. As sepsis is currently the single most expensive condition treated in hospitals, this will not only save patients but will also help reducing cost and prevent unsustainable cost-explosion of healthcare systems.
Amélie Béduer, Volumina Medical: Thanks to our innovative biomaterial, breast cancer patients will benefit of a safer breast reconstruction procedure that can bring durable results. It will have a strong impact on patient’s quality of life and help them to regain self-confidence. Plastic surgeons will save time and be able to treat more patients with less uncertainty compared to best standard of care. Ultimately, the healthcare system will be more efficient.
4. What is in the future for your company?
Ralph Steidl, Portabiles Healthcare Technologies: In 2021 we will apply for the novel “fast track” program in Germany – it enables reimbursement within 3 months after application and our goal is to provide our mobile GaitLab as a means for therapy decision support.
Lukas Langenegger, Hemotune: We are convinced that precision medicine blood purification will become an indispensable tool not only in sepsis and critical illness but also in other areas such as autoimmune diseases and cancer.
Amélie Béduer, Volumina Medical: The next steps are to perform clinical trials with our first product and continue growing.
5. As the world embraces the second wave of COVID-19, what are your essential business survival tips?
Ralph Steidl, Portabiles Healthcare Technologies: That’s really hard to say since businesses are affected so differently. At the moment, telemedical devices and services are gathering more attention, which is quite helpful for us. In the long run, I’m sure digital health will be essential to ensure healthcare in a crisis like COVID-19.
Lukas Langenegger, Hemotune: Have a clear strategy and execute it in the most cash-conscious manner possible.
Amélie Béduer, Volumina Medical: One essential business survival tip would be to focus more than ever and take care of our team.