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InnoStars, RIS

From imposter syndrome to uncertainty – the reality healthcare start-ups face as EIT Health revamps InnoStars Awards programme to support entrepreneurs

9th July 2024

EIT Health InnoStars has recently commissioned a detailed study to understand the challenges faced by healthcare start-ups and the value InnoStars business creation programmes offer to overcome them. The primary benefits of these programmes, such as the long-running InnoStars Awards, are training, smart money funding, mentorship, bootcamps, and other tangible gains, but the study uncovered additional hidden benefits for participants.

Facing challenges alone vs. community support

Based on the testimonials, entrepreneurs often feel being alone with their challenges. Meeting each other in start-up programmes can change this by fostering a sense of belonging, enabling teams to share experiences, common fears and challenges. As one founder remarked, “We felt that we are not alone.” Another participant reflected on not having to explain everything as other teams are also involved in healthcare innovation, “They don’t question you just because of the time you are taking with clinical trials and the regulatory training.” Mutual support extends beyond encouragement; it also includes practical advice. For instance, start-ups can refine their pitches based on peer feedback.Other start-ups can tell you if they understood the idea. And if not, you start to make it more understandable,” one participant shared.

Limited access to key stakeholders

Healthcare start-ups need connections with physicians, patients, corporates, and investors to gain insights and support. The InnoStars Awards programme fulfils this need for the agency by offering networking opportunities and opening doors to potential investors, customers and collaborators. These connections are crucial for gaining market insights. “I’ve learned a lot about how clinical trials work in Europe,” noted one participant. A doctor from Portugal added, “I’ve been talking to several other projects, most of whom don’t have physicians on the team. We are mutually benefiting from meeting each other as I learn something new, and they know the perspective of a potential user.”

Struggles with confidence and validation

Imposter syndrome and self-doubt are common among entrepreneurs, impacting their productivity and business performance. EIT Health InnoStars programmes provide validation and reassurance by boosting participants’ confidence. “Reaching the finals, you start to realise that people are confirming that you’re doing it in the right direction,” one entrepreneur shared. You gain more confidence as you find you can help others who genuinely see you as an entrepreneur to learn from. This makes you feel better,” remarked another entrepreneur. Inspirational stories from peers also reinforce self-belief and hope.

InnoStars Awards: addressing the challenges head-on

EIT Health’s InnoStars Awards programme is designed to address these challenges head-on by accelerating healthcare start-ups from Central, Eastern, and Southern Europe.

Over the past seven years, more than 120 start-ups have participated in the InnoStars Awards, more than half of which have achieved market success, including such promising companies as Portugal’s Orgavalue, Poland’s IQ Biozoom. Based on feedback from participants, this year we decided to change the format of the programme to create even more networking opportunities for start-ups. The InnoStars Awards is also a unique venue for investors looking for gems in biotech, medtech and life sciences.

We look forward to turning more prototypes and MVPs into market-ready health solutions, and to welcoming start-ups as regular members of our thriving network, where they can forge the necessary partnerships to take the next step on their innovation journey”, said Tamás Békási, RIS Business Creation Lead at EIT Health and the InnoStars Awards programme manager

Participants receive a range of benefits, including €15,000 in funding, opportunities to pitch to top investors, training in Early Health Technology Assessment, and personalised mentoring. The programme’s well-known Validation Track focuses on start-ups with an MVP and no revenue, offering intensive bootcamps to refine market entry strategies and accelerate product launches. The brand-new Investment Track is for more mature, revenue-generating start-ups seeking seed or Series A investment, providing focused bootcamps on investment strategies and business planning. The programme culminates in the InnoStars Grand Final in November, where start-ups pitch to an international jury for up to €25,000 awards.

Artificial organs and non-invasive cortisol measurement

Two notable success stories from past editions of InnoStars Awards highlight the programme’s impact. Orgavalue, a company founded by medical students in Porto, won 1st place in last year’s competition for developing a method to bioengineer personalised human organs, aiming to eliminate transplant waiting lists and reach the market by 2028 with an initial focus on liver transplants.

The company used the opportunities from the programme to develop its product further. Another example is former InnoStars Awards finalist IQ Biozoom, a start-up specialising in non-invasive home diagnostics. The Polish company used networking facilitated by EIT Health to partner with the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Coimbra and the National Metrology Institute TUBITAK  from Turkey to advance research in non-invasive cortisol measurement.

Founders interested in applying for InnoStars Awards can learn more and apply at InnoStars Awards | EIT Health

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