InnoStars, RIS, InnoStars, RIS

Five Portuguese healthcare start-ups take home awards from EIT Health InnoStars Grand Final in Milan

21st November 2023

In the vibrant Milan Innovation District (MIND), 40 cutting-edge European start-ups gathered on the unique convergence of three key healthcare business creation programmes in Southern, Central and Eastern Europe. With a promising bioengineering solution, Orgavalue from Portugal won the prestigious InnoStars Awards, netting €25,000 in smart money, while 2nd place went to fellow Porto company Beat Therapeutics. To illustrate the success of the Portuguese healthcare innovation ecosystem, teams from the country took the first three prizes in the RIS Innovation Call, aimed to support  local healthcare projects in the proof-of-concept phase.  The EIT Health InnoStars Grand Final was not only about showcasing pioneering innovations, but also forging connections that have the potential to transform healthcare across Europe.

To enable Europeans to live longer and healthier lives, EIT Health—part of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union—provides multiple business creation programmes to support start-ups in in the biotech, digital health, med tech & therapeutics fields in Europe. These initiatives cater to the needs of start-ups in different stages of development – from teams at the beginning of their journey to established companies seeking additional investment.

For the first time, the finals of three key business creation programmes: RIS Innovation Call, InnoStars Awards, and Attract to Invest—tailored for start-ups in Southern, Central, and Eastern Europe and operated by EIT Health InnoStars—converged on November 7-8 in the Milan Innovation District (MIND). This event, co-organised by EIT Health InnoStars core partner Synlab Italia, brought 40 promising start-ups to Italy’s healthcare innovation hub, empowering them to forge meaningful connections and advance their solutions to the next level.

Bioengineered organs and novel cancer therapies

One of the three programmes, InnoStars Awards, is designed to support early-stage start-ups in their transition from prototypes/MVPs to market-ready products. Over the past eight years, over 100 start-ups have participated in this competition, and more than half have successfully launched their products in the market. This year, the jury awarded the 1st place in the InnoStars Awards to Orgavalue among the 10 finalists.

Founded by medical students in Porto, Orgavalue’s mission is to eliminate organ transplant waiting lists. The company is developing a unique method to bioengineer personalised human organs by de-cellularising organs from the donor and then re-cellularising the scaffold with patient-derived cells. This could help reduce the risk of rejection of the transplanted organ and eliminate organ waste. They aim is to reach the market by 2028, initially focusing on liver transplants, representing a market opportunity of €8.8bn.

“Despite progress in medical therapies, the WHO estimates that only 10% of the worldwide need for organ transplantation is being met. In EU, 40 people die each day due to, and every 9 minutes one person is added to the organ transplant waiting list, which we aim to eliminate”, said Orgavalue CEO & Founder Rodrigo Val d’Oleiros e Silva. “I would like to thank all my team as well as EIT Health InnoStars – we came in 2nd place in last year’s EIT Jumpstarter Grand Final, a key programme for people with innovative ideas. Now we advanced to the next level, which is a testament to the value of EIT Health’s efforts and its  support to companies throughout the entire innovation journey.”

Second place in the InnoStars Awards also went to a Portuguese company. Hailing from Porto, BEAT Therapeutics is addressing the profound lack of effective treatment options affecting 1.7 million new patients diagnosed each year with hard-to-treat cancers. The team developed and patented a new anti-tumour agent, BBIT20, which disrupts a vital pathway in cancer cells and inhibits their DNA repair. In pre-clinical models BBIT20 shows 4 to 20-fold higher efficacy in relation to chemotherapy and targeted therapies, with lower doses and a proven safety profile.

More Iberian success stories

Third place went to Spanish company D-Sight, developing a new therapeutic approach for early stages of diabetic retinopathy (ESDR). This condition is the most common complication of diabetes and the leading cause of preventable visual disability and blindness in working-age population throughout the world. There are currently no treatments for ESDR, and the treatments for advance stages of the disease are invasive and present several adverse effects. D-Sight’s planned solution, administering sitagliptin eye drops, promises a cost-effective and safe treatment option.

The top three teams received prizes of €25,000, €15,000, and €10,000, respectively. Additionally, being a part of EIT Health community offers networking opportunities with its partners, healthcare providers, and investors to the winners.

During the Grand Final in Milan, three other start-ups garnered recognition from their respective juries. The first three places in the RIS Innovation Call, which is tailored for local healthcare projects  to initiate their innovation journeys in the proof-of-concept stage, was secured by three more Portuguese start-ups.

  • First place went to Gotech, a team developing the first graphene light-activated, fully integrated catheter cap (Gocap) that continuously prevents infection in dialysis patients.
  • The team behind Bactometer, a portable magnetic device for cost-effective, accurate, rapid pathogen detection and identification, secured 2nd
  • The final spot on the podium was taken by Orgacancer, a spin-off of Orgavalue, working on microdevices that recapitulate the structures of living human organs to advance disease models for cancer and regeneration.

Meeting of the minds in Milan

In the Attract to Invest competition, catering to more mature companies with products already on the market, seeking additional capital, MEBSTER emerged victorious. The Czech company is developing an innovative passive exoskeleton platform, empowering those with lower limb impairments, particularly from spinal cord injuries, to walk again.

To emphasise the strength of networking, event participants had the opportunity to vote for their favourite start-ups, and collectively, they chose to give the InnoStars Community Award to the Romanian team behind MoodZ, a smartwatch app to improve mental health by interrupting REM sleep through vibrations, known to reduce mood disorders.

“The 2023 edition of the InnoStars Grand Final was a true celebration of entrepreneurial synergy and boundless innovation”, said Mónika Tóth, Regional Innovation Scheme (RIS) programme director for EIT Health InnoStars. “As EIT Health InnoStars, we are excited to be part of the journey of these extremely talented start-upers and see them benefit from being a part of our vast community of innovators.  Making connections is all what EIT Health stands for. Over the last four years, we’ve received over 1,000 eligible applications for our business creation   programmes and supported around 190 start-ups, which gathered approximately 40 million euros of external investment and grants. We are confident that the winners of this year’s edition will also make good use of the power of network.”

To further enable connections, an Investor Forum was also organised where representatives from VC firms and angel investors shared some light on what human factors, they look for in start-up founders beyond the sheer numbers. Enhancing the collaborative atmosphere was the Milan edition of i-Days, a series of hackathons held across Europe, where students addressed real-life healthcare challenges. In the event organised by Synlab, a core EIT Health partner in Italy, students were tasked with developing ideas to make healthcare services more accessible, efficient and effective through technology within the cities of the future.

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