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InnoStars

Successful spin-offs and start-ups help Italy emerge as digital healthcare powerhouse

8th December 2022

Italy is a strategic location of EIT Health InnoStars, and the country’s healthcare start-up ecosystem is emerging as one of the most promising in the region and beyond. From university spinoffs focused on digital diagnostics to breakthroughs in medical technology, dozens of teams have benefited from the financial and matchmaking opportunities provided by EIT Health. Europe’s leading healthcare innovation network has invested €5+ million in the country so far, and as Italian teams excel in start-up competitions such as the InnoStars Awards, more success stories are surely on the way.

NIB Biotec is an Italian start-up striving to develop a smart biosensor to diagnose prostate cancer. Using a patented combination of urinary molecules, the solution aims to make the diagnostic path of the disease more efficient by minimising time in hospitals. The company has formed as a spinoff of the University of Turin. One of Europe’s oldest universities has joined EIT Health as a partner in 2022 and has already incubated several successful start-ups thanks to its cutting-edge research in fields like diagnostics, biosensors and nanotechnology.

Early detection of iron deficiency can save lives

One such start-up is Fidelio Medical. The team is about to launch Ferella, the first digital diagnostic solution enabling easier screening, monitoring and mentorship for women affected by iron deficiency. The condition can cause fatigue, heart and kidney disease and even infertility – but if detected in the early stage, pre-emptive and targeted treatments can alleviate the effects of iron deficiency.

Yet another example for a successful spin-off from Turin is Addax Bioscience. They are not focusing on digital diagnostics, but on treatment: the team aims to develop an innovative histological fixative (a material that allows tissue to be kept at a life-like state for microscopic investigation) that substitutes standard formalin-based solutions, as formalin is believed to have carcinogenic properties.

All three of these start-ups have received substantial assistance during their growth journeys from EIT Health. NIB Biotech was one of the two 2022 winners of Wild Card, a programme where promising start-ups from across Europe embark on a 9-week training and mentoring programme led by industry experts, after which the best two receive access to funding and expertise. Addax has been selected among the 42 semi-finalists of EIT Health Catapult, a programme that boosts the development of health start-ups by exposing them to leading experts and international investors.

Italian success at 2022 InnoStars Awards

Meanwhile, Fidelio Medical was 1 of 4 Italian start-ups that made it into the Grand Final of the EIT Health InnoStars Awards, one of the most competitive accelerator programmes in Europe aimed at early-stage start-ups with a prototype or Minimum Viable Product. In 2022, over 100 projects have applied for participation for the sixth edition of the competition, and no other country was represented by more teams than Italy in among the top ten finalists.

Fidelio was joined among the finalists by Bioridis, a start-up developing a revolutionary test method to identify antimicrobial resistance (AMR); by Medicud, working on an ultraportable device for preventing infections after surgery; and by the Idea Società Cooperativa, the team behind BOSET, a reusable real-time monitoring device for the traceability of transfusion blood bags during transport. To reinforce to promise of Italian innovation, Medicud took third prize in the Grand Final, which took place recently on November 24th.

€3 million to 60 Italian start-ups

These success stories are not random – with several EIT Health Partners and one EIT Health Hub, Italy is a strategic location for the European healthcare innovation network in the InnoStars region, covering Southern, Central and Eastern Europe. To reinforce this position, EIT Health opened its first office in Italy in November 2021 at the University of Naples Federico II (UniNA), the oldest public university in the world and an EIT Health partner since 2017.

“EIT Health has invested around €2 million in boosting innovation in Italy”, said Alessio Smeraldo, EIT EIT Health InnoStars Interim Ecosystem Lead for Italy. “EIT Health has also been committed to supporting Italian start-ups: 60 of them have received around €3 million worth of financial, mentoring, training, and networking assistance. The support and visibility they obtained allowed them to gain additional funding – for an amount of approximately €17 million – and to attract external partners for their projects. We work here with the leading players who want to shape the future of healthcare in Italy and in Europe.”

The list of Italian success stories is growing. OncoWatch, a company using data to improve prostate cancer diagnostics and treatment, is one of the most successful, but companies such as SurgiQ, PatchAI, Kyme Nanoimaging, Takis Biotech and TeiaCare have also been featured in the news. The range of EIT Health partners in Italy is also expanding. In 2022, the University of Turin joined a diverse portfolio of partners including Synlab Italia, Synlab SDN, BioCheckUp, the Instituto Italiano di Tecnologia,  the University of Naples Federico II, ART-ER Attractiveness Research Territory, and Fondazione Bruno Kessler.

Partnering with local events is key

“The emergence of Italian health start-ups and partners is evidence that InnoStars and its partners can successfully cooperate in scouting new innovative ideas and support these in any stage from proof-of-concept to proof-of-value”, said Alessio Smeraldo. “It also validates our approach to work closely together with national start-up events, competitions and bootcamps, where new connections can be made – as innovation doesn’t happen alone, but always with partners.”

The success of the approach is reflected in promising ventures that are in earlier stages than previous examples. Morecognition, a spinoff of Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, has been featured in the EIT Health Finance Booster programme to develop an AI-enhanced domestic rehabilitation system. Meanwhile, Robosan, a spin-off of the University of Naples working on the first fully automated system for sanitation, tracking and packaging of biological sample containers, as well as VCD Medical, specializing in a high-tech innovative device for the minimally invasive treatment of chronic venous disease (varicose veins) can benefit from the Mentoring & Coaching Network of EIT Health InnoStars.

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