Finnish Digital Health Ecosystem —
The Next Big Thing?
Health has become a sexy topic in tech circles, with a number of digital health companies increasing strongly. The industry has seen the largest increase in the number of exists within tech — according to CB Insights data, the growth in exits has reached 181% in 2013–2014 comparing to 2011–2012.
Investors are aware that health care industry is recession-proof, so no surprise many are looking into the domain. Meeting the peer investors, I often get asked about the digital health ecosystem of Finland. I thought it’s about time to summarize what’s been happening here during the past years.
Finland is clearly becoming a leading digital health hub.
It is already one out of ten countries exporting more health technology than importing. According to estimates from different sources, there are approximately 500 companies active in the health sector, which employ 20.000 people. The health sector has a strong foundation in research, product development and innovation, which require specialised competences. Close partnership between the public and the private sector is at the core of the development. Finland has invested in health sector for decades, supporting growth companies via various funding programs.
Digital health startups are growing in Finland at a huge speed.
Previously, lack of networks between companies have been slowing down business development activities and internationalisation of the young companies. Today, many initiatives to support the growth are being launched. More & more players are willing to work together to establish Finland as an internationally renowned forerunner in health sector research, innovation, investment and new business activities.
Every year, Slush draws together a crowd of 15.000 tech entrepreneurs, VCs and journalists to Helsinki. Slush Health Track has been one of the biggest tracks of the whole event during the past two years. The program featured a lineup of the industry’s leading speakers, product launches, and a demo area — more than 200 health & wellness startups attended and presented their services.
Past years’ speakers included Matthew Holt (Co-Chairman at Health 2.0), Jonathan Knowles (ex-Head of Group Research at Roche), Dr. Wei Siang Yu (Executive Chairman & Founder of Borderless Healthcare Group), Bill Geiser (Founder & CEO of MetaWatch), Ida Tin (CEO of Clue), Anssi Vanjoki (professor & angel investor), Matteo Lai (CEO of Empatica) & Ulli Koop (Founder & CEO of XLHealth).
HealthSPA cluster has been facilitating co-operation between innovative startups and globally successful corporations. In less than two years, it gathered more than 300 companies working in digital health space, and run many local events across Finland.
Helsinki-based Accelerator Vertical launched in early 2015 in partnership with Samsung Electronics, Sonera, Ingram Micro & other players. 11 startups from Finland, the Nordics, and other European countries were accepted into the first Fall 2015 batch. At the end of the program, Vertical team backed 2 of them. In the future, they will be accepting 15 seed-stage companies twice a year for 4–6 months. The application period for the Spring program (starting 1st March 2016) is open now.
In 2015, GE Healthcare announced the plans to establish a programme for digital health at its Finnish headquarters. The main focus will be on the development of wireless and portable data transfer technology. The total investment into the programme will reach EUR 28.5 million over a period of 3 years. Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation, has announced collaboration with GE Healthcare, and will be supporting the research program with a significant EUR 10 million funding.
The Finnish government is also looking at digital health as an important sector for the country’s economic growth. The Bits of Health — a program run by Tekes — pursues to make Finland a renowned expertise and business hub for digital health. Startups are offered many opportunities, ranging from coaching to internationalisation. HealthTuesday, previously hosted by the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, is nowadays run by Tekes. On a first Tuesday of each month, everyone can join a discussion on current health and wellbeing topics.
In November 2015, Finnish government (Team Finland & Finpro) launched a new program in partnership with US-based StartUp Health & GE Healthcare — StartUp Health Finland. The program is meant to connect Finnish entrepreneurs to US-based investors and customers, as well as integrate them into StartUp Health’s platform.
StartUp Health Finland will co-locate in the Health Innovation Village at GE. To kick off, it will accept 5 early-stage digital health startups. Check out the podcast with Finpro’s Program Director, Eero Toivainen, discussing why Finland is a hotbed for health innovation.
The last days of spring 2016 are promising to be hot for digital health startups & investors. The largest health tech event in the Nordics — Upgraded Life Festival —comes back to Helsinki on the 30–31st May. Last year’s event attracted 800+ people from all over the Nordics, and covered healthcare, wellness, big data, quantified self, biohacking, fitness and wearables. Meilahti Hospital, the Helsinki Academic Medical Center, was a perfect venue for this year’s event. Check out the presentations from the event here.
In addition, on the 1st of June HealthSPA & Arctic15 will co-host an event focusing on matchmaking between healthtech startups and investors.
On 2–3rd June 2016, Arctic15 will host a Digital Health Track at the Cable Factory, exploring the intersection of healthtech, biotech and pharma. Last year’s speakers included Claudia Karnbach (Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals), Jesus del Valle Rosales (Bayer Grants4Apps Digital Health Accelerator), Tara Sharif, (Healthcare Investment Banking, WestPark Capital Inc), Eric de la Fortelle, (Seventure Partners) & many others. You can book your tickets or subscribe for the updates here.
In November 17–18th, Biohacker Summit 2016 will take over the Cable Factory in Helsinki. Last year, the event featured the “Playground” for those who dislike sitting — you could try out new wearables, fiddle with biohacking equipment, as well as exercise while watching the inspiring presentations.
Overall, I feel the ecosystem has never been as exciting. If there are any activities or initiatives that I haven’t listed here, please ping me at email@example.com or leave your comment here.