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Last week, Dolfin welcomed some 50 guests to an event exploring the most pressing issues that face would-be investors in the healthcare sector. It covered topics ranging from what it takes for innovative technologies to enter the market; to how to turn cutting-edge scientific research into a profitable business; to how investors can take advantage of opportunities in the sector at an early stage, helping to bring to life innovation that would transform health outcomes and have a real positive impact on society.
Dolfin’s Head of Investment Management, Simon Black, welcomed delegates and introduced Dolfin, explaining why we consider the topic of the night hugely relevant to us and our clients: “As a macroeconomic investor, we believe in thematic ideas. We look for opportunities that will perform in years to come, and how we can take advantage of them in our portfolios. We focus on technology, and how it can be implemented in multiple sectors to address fundamental human needs, such as food, access to clean water, shelter and of course health.”
Simon handed over to the keynote speaker, Dr Kurt Höller, Director of Business Creation at EIT Health, a network of best-in-class health innovators backed by the EU, who addressed the key questions of how and why to invest in European health start-ups.
“Demographic changes have created an urgent need for healthcare innovation.” – Dr Kurt Höller, EIT Health
“Demographic changes have created an ageing population and an urgent need for healthcare innovation,” Kurt told the audience. “It’s good to get older – no one is complaining! But ageing leads to a higher rate of chronic disease and higher healthcare costs, and there is a dramatic need for good solutions.”
EIT Health, he explained, focuses on three pillars: an incubate accelerator programme that supports start-ups and spin-offs at all stages; healthcare bootcamps for post-doctoral researchers looking for an alternative to joining big pharma companies; and ensuring that the best start-ups are given the support they need to rise to the top. He went on to present some headline figures backing up the attractiveness of healthcare as an investment, pointing out that 50 per cent of high-performance funds are in the field.
The evening then moved on to a focused discussion bringing together experts with a multifaceted experience, ranging from academic research to entrepreneurship, to finance. The panel included Benno Groosman, serial entrepreneur and CEO of Surge-on Medical; Professor Roman Hovorka, Professor of Metabolic Technology at the University of Cambridge and Director of a research group developing and clinically testing the artificial pancreas; Dr Patrick Pfeffer, CEO and founder of Aescuvest, a European equity crowdfunding platform for health innovation; Carolyn Porter, Chief Business Officer of OxStem, a regenerative medicine drug discovery company spun out from Oxford University; and Dr Andreas Schmidt, CEO of Proteona, a venture capital-backed biomedical company working with genomic and proteomic data for single cell analysis.
The panel addressed questions including the challenges facing spin-offs and start-ups in such a capital-intensive sphere like health innovation; the need for a commercial strategy as well as ‘cool science’ and good IP strategy; how to determine the best fundraising method for scaling a healthcare business; and how to get products to market.
“It is vital to go international early, targeting one country first will not work.”
An insightful question posed to the panel was the lessons they have learned from the early start-up phase. Kurt and Andreas both made the point that it is vital to go international early, saying that targeting one country first will not work, it is much harder to grow a company that has been scaled in one jurisdiction first, and companies will benefit from being able to attract the best people in the world in their field.
The panel were also asked how start-ups can educate investors, who are often behind the tech curve and may be more comfortable dealing with drugs than with technological healthcare innovations. Responding, Patrick made the point that it is often necessary to challenge a reluctance to embrace leading-edge technology. “I tell them, it’s better to be artificially intelligent than naturally stupid,” he added laughingly.
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