The Future of Healthcare Innovation. An Interview with Dr. Sonja Sulzmaier, Managing Partner of Navispace AG.
Mr. Marco Müller, Principal in the Life Sciences Practice at SpenglerFox, recently had the privilege to have a discussion with Dr. Sonja Sulzmaier, Managing Partner of Navispace AG, about trends in the healthcare innovation sector. For more than 12 years Navispace is at the forefront of open innovation. Its Innovation World Cup Series connect the largest technology players in the world (e.g. Google, Intel, Ericsson, STMicroelectronics, Würth, EBV Elektronik (Avnet Group), Gore, Bayer, Roche, Telit, Gemalto, Samsung, VARTA Microbattery, Texas Instruments, MediaTek Labs, Swisscom, Bluetooth SIG, and many more) with innovative techpreneurs. They bring together players of different industries to generate new impulses, new markets, and sustainable innovation ecosystems (e.g. WT Wearable Technologies, Connected Health, MEDICINE + SPORTS).
Dr. Sulzmaier, you are Managing Partner of Navispace, initiator and organizer of the Innovation World Cup® Series, the most established open innovation platform in tech and healthcare worldwide. Please tell us about yourself and the Innovation world cup:
Navispace is a tech innovation company that creates sustainable innovation ecosystem and connects tech giants and techpreneurs worldwide. With the Innovation World Cup® we drive innovation in many different application fields – from smart manufacturing, to smart cities, and healthcare. In Healthcare we support hundreds of innovators every year and contribute to new solutions available that will improve diagnosis, treatment and therapy of the health conditions of many people around the world. I am doing tech strategy and innovation for 25 years now – always with the objective to create a direct impact.
Your mission is to connect techpreneurs with corporates. In a world where physical distance is needed during the COVID-19 pandemic, how difficult is it to connect people now?
It has certainly become more challenging. However, we are leading in tech innovation. We have always used a lot of virtual modes and tools to get into contact with and to connect people. The submission to the Innovation World Cup is a full virtual process and also the business matching between corporate partners and techpreneurs. Our database is open to our corporate partners who easily match business profiles and connect with suitable innovators to collaborate.
Naturally, more complex introduction processes are difficult to realise in these times. One example is the introduction of a new solution to the market and the lead generation for such new solutions. Physical events are much more conducive here. This is why we hope we will have at least hybrid events in the very near future.
You are highly active in the healthcare sector. As part of the Innovation World Cup Series, you organize the MEDICA Start-up Competition and the Healthcare Innovation World Cup, among others.
Indeed, many of our activities are related to healthcare and lifescience. We organize several online innovation competitions and corporate challenges like the Healthcare Innovation World Cup, the MEDICA Start-up Competition, or the WellTech Challenge. We select more than 100 healthcare start-ups every year who present their solutions at the world´s largest healthcare trade show MEDICA and the MEDICA CONNECTED HEALTHCARE FORUM we organize onsite. In this exceptional year MEDICA 2020 will now take place completely virtually. Everyone is invited to join the finals of the two awards and further pitches from 16 to 19 November at virtual.MEDICA CONFERENCE for free.
We are also dreaming of organizing a Diabetes Care Innovation World Cup or an Asthma Innovation World Cup, because we could really create a huge innovation push with our programs and help millions of people suffering from chronic diseases.
Where do you see trends in the industry this year?
Increasing amounts of health data are created by the use of information systems of all relevant players. Additionally, Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) solutions like connected devices and wearables monitor health parameters continuously and create – a lot of data. Some people talk about a data tsunami. This big data has to be structured by data analytics to accelerate data-driven thinking and decision making. Artifical Intelligence can be used to detect patterns and develop possible outcomes.
Inside the wearables segment we will see a lot of “patchables” besides “hearables”, “wristables” or “smart implants”. Besides the familiar patchables that monitor blood glucose level we expect to see many more disposable patchables coming up for patients with chronic heart diseases, pain, asthma and other respiratory diseases, and mental diseases. In the future we will also use a lot of wearables for monitoring medication because a considerable proportion of total healthcare costs arise from wrongly administered medication. Innovations are going to help doctors monitor how their patients administer their prescribed medication. Smart patches can make a significant contribution towards monitoring of medication besides smart pill boxes and thus not just reduce costs but more importantly saving lives.
Preventative healthcare is a growing trend internationally. Via predictive data and medicine, you can have an early warning system for several conditions and avoid chronic diseases in the future. And of course, there is the important topic of healthcare apps. We have some revolutionary processes going on in different countries. As an example, Germany has the Digital Healthcare Act, which is an interesting option not just for national healthcare companies but also for international companies entering the market. We also see similar developments in most of the Scandinavian countries that are going to speed up the process of making innovations available for those who need it most.
Has it become generally more difficult for Healthcare start-ups to create visibility for themselves?
There are less options than before because all the startup events are now taking place virtually with usually very limited networking opportunities. As an example, this year the finals of the MEDICA Start-up Competition and the Healthcare Innovation World Cup will both take place in virtual formats. Usually we have a huge audience on site and attendees can talk with the innovators directly after the show. This aspect will be missing this year of course but we will try to support them the best we can, and we hope that we will have a big virtual audience. One advantage of the virtual world is that the events are recorded, and participants will have the chance to watch it any time after the event and contact interesting parties after the event. All players must work hard to support the innovation eco-system so that we can overcome these challenging times.
What are the current trends about investment in Healthcare innovations this year?
We have seen that some of the corporate healthcare accelerators are currently undergoing transformation processes. Historically, they were mostly independent units and even separate companies. There is now a trend where those healthcare accelerators are increasingly being re-incorporated into the core activities and business areas of the larger company. On the other side, we see that funding has become an even more difficult topic for healthcare start-ups now because all the large venture capital investors receive hundreds of pitch decks weekly, which makes the selection process quite slow and difficult.
The Innovation World Cup could also support here. Expert jury members are evaluating many new techpreneurs’ solutions and could provide shortlisted candidates that are interesting to watch – on an ongoing basis. And many investors are already tracking our activities as a quality source for new investments.
Do you see new opportunities for healthcare start-ups?
Yes, we do. All those start-ups who have a potential solution that will aid in overcoming the challenges of COVID-19 are the rock-stars now. We know innovators in the field of hearables for example ´greenTEG or cosinuss who offer products that measure the body core temperature, or distancing wearables like Kinexon’s SafeZone which is being used by all the big football teams and in the NBA to ensure distance regulations between each other. Other companies in the field of asthma like Healthcare Originals or spirometer devices are also experiencing growth now. They all have a direct relation to COVID-19, but other start-ups are also indirectly profiting as well such as start-ups offering virtual pregnancy courses for expecting mothers, and those offering tele-care devices. We see a huge interest from the investment side for all remote and telecare devices supporting the home care sector. Those devices have also a vital role in times of highly infectious diseases to take the pressure off from the intensive care units.
How has networking changed?
Many digital business matching tools are in place, from simple chat functions to sophisticated tools. Even though the number of video calls have increased tremendously, we still often need the physical touch points to create the trust you need to establish serious business connections.
I do hope that we will have a vaccine in place in some months. Additionally, we are entering the future of a hybrid connection experience that seamlessly integrates physical and digital modes of communication and transaction. Remote attendees can meet real exhibitors or real attendees can meet the perfect virtual contact at the booth. Conferences can be attended physically or virtually at the time of the conference. Or they will be attended “on-demand” at another point in time. A hybrid connection experience is a good and welcome change as that model will expand the number of possible connections and opportunities for everyone. Finally, as Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” COVID-19 global crisis has forced thousands of companies to change and has resulted in many great innovations about how we do business now and in the future.
Dr Sonja Sulzmaier, Managing Partner, Navispace AG