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Six weeks with START UP SCHOOL by heINNOVATION: An Insider’s View

Between 5 October and 12 November 2020, 36 young innovators gained hands-on experience in solving real-world healthcare challenges.

Would you like to get out of the laboratory and solve real challenges in the healthcare sector? 36 young innovators answered “yes” to this question and joined the Start-up School “Healthcare in a digital world” in October 2020. EIT Health Germany joined forces with Sanofi and heiInnovation, the transfer agency of the University of Heidelberg, to organize a six-week school and provide valuable advice and mentorship to the aspiring entrepreneurs. The idea was to equip young scientists, Ph.D. students and postdoctoral researchers with entrepreneurial skills by developing innovative and concrete solutions for some of the most important challenges in digital healthcare today.

Healthcare stakeholders Pfizer and Pfizer Healthcare Hub, Midaia, LogMyBody and Barmer also joined in and provided the healthcare challenges to be discussed. The programme’s agenda was primarily composed of online workshops and talks, self-learning session and a hackathon weekend. The six-week innovation journey was supplemented with motivational speakers, professional coaches and full-time coaches.

The 36 young innovators, who worked in interdisciplinary teams, accepted the challenges and were lead by nine coaches through the whole cycle of innovation from the idea to a viable business product. The first week, which was dedicated to challenge assignment, teambuilding and networking, kicked off with the keynote speech “The future of healthcare in a digital world” by Dr. Henrik Matthies, Managing Director of health innovation hub Berlin. In the second week, participants were introduced to the methods of Design Thinking and learned how to apply them to understand the needs of the user. The third week was dedicated to finding solutions, creating the first prototypes and finding potential users. Week 4 was all about technical feasibility and discovering new technologies. The talks on “Research and state-of-the-art-technologies in digital health” by Jun. Prof. Dr. Sandy Engelhardt, University of Heidelberg and “AI in Medicine” by Math Works provided a perfect base for the open end Hackathon on 30 October 2020. It was also in week 4 when the first “How to Pitch” workshop was held. The last two weeks participants explored how to create a viable business model through workshops, interviews and talks. The final demo day was scheduled for 12 November, 2020.

Mathis Palm, Accelerator Project Assistant at EIT Health Germany has supported the young innovators as a coach for the challenge “How can you keep user retention as high as possible in the long term with a digital application for patients with rheumatic diseases?” posed by the digital health start-up Midaia. We briefly chatted with one of the participants, Nada Sahlab, research assistant and PhD candidate at the Institute of Industrial Automation and Software Engineering of the University of Stuttgart, on her experience with the program. 

1.What’s your impression of the challenge?

The challenge given to our team was addressing the user’s retention for using a mobile app assisting with rheumatic diseases. The team was assigned to work on concepts for increasing long-term retention. The challenge owner mentioned that two scientific concepts should be designed, which was a bit challenging to put in the context of a business model as well as visualize through a prototype. We, therefore, demonstrated application functionalities that would bring more value to patients and implicitly increase the retention as a result. Maintaining the scope throughout the work and balancing between applying the learnings from the session and the requirements of the challenge owner was challenging, but overall, the results achieved by the team were positively assessed.

2. Any thoughts on your team?

I had worked with an interdisciplinary team, members were of different educational backgrounds and career stages. We had a flexible approach when it came to dividing tasks and an overall motivating and positive atmosphere during our discussions.  The coaches supported our discussions and outputs by introducing other perspectives and making us question our approaches in a productive way. I especially liked at the start that Mr. Mathis Palm was eager to learn more about us as individuals, which strengthened our team bond throughout the school.

3. Your biggest take-away from the programme?
While working on the challenge, I liked how a user-centric approach was put into focused and user interviews were made possible. I learned a lot from the talks on was updated on the status, challenges, and potentials in digitalizing the health domain.

Impressions from other participants:

This school was a great opportunity to learn new aspects of the business and scientific world. Our challenge was very enjoyable to face and our team developed a great spirit very fast. Everyone’s effort and creativity  were inspiring and I found new energy to keep investing on my ideas.” (Chiara Di Ponzio, PhD student at German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ ) and Charité Berlin)

During the startup school it was great to get insights into tools and methods to create a startup from scratch in the healthcare domain. Especially, the contacts to experts in the context of this activity are valuable and useful for the future. I am also planning to start a startup and I feel more confident about it now.” (Markus Schinle, research scientist at the FZI Research Center for Information Technology)

We are looking forward to the next year´s edition!