What one year as a Starship Innovation Fellow means

During 2017 I started a journey with other fellows from all over Europe. Starship is one of many initiatives of EIT Health and aims to train healthcare innovators using the biodesign methodology. Key aspects of the program include learning modules geographically spread throughout Europe, clinical immersion in local hospitals, and collaboration with industry partners. Here are my key takeaways from the experience.

1. Learn, learn, and learn

Magda Rosenmöller from IESE, in Barcelona, discussing project management strategies. Magda’s unwavering attitude and energy inspired everyone.

From day 1 we are immersed in information. Learning comes from every possible direction — a mentor, another fellow, an entrepreneur that shared her/his story. We embraced every opportunity to learn, and several of these were instrumental during our journey. There is always something to learn, and Starship will remind you of that.

2. Embrace cultures and disciplines

The Starship fellows come from a diverse technical and cultural background, which contributes to the diversity of the group. For instance, Artiomas Šabajevas came from Lithuania and is a social entrepreneur fighting for behavioral change in child obesity, and Ion-Gheorghe Petrovai is a Romanian entrepreneur (check out FreshBlood) passionate about improving the local innovation ecosystem.

Having just moved from Boston, I was more familiar with the US healthcare system (what’s wrong with US healthcare system?), and took this as an opportunity to learn about the best practices (and the worst!) of each country. The diverse nature of our group contributed to helpful discussions and exchanges of perspectives.

3. Meet the entrepreneurs

Meeting a local biotech company in Łódź, Poland.

Reading and talking about entrepreneurship in a silo is different from meeting and seeing what the entrepreneurs accomplished. It was helpful to learn about the story behind each entrepreneur — how disparate paths they took, how they faced adversity, and the contrast with the allure of the entrepreneur “title”. Visiting the startups and meeting the entrepreneurs was also inspirational, and gave us a better idea of how regional initiatives are stimulating healthcare and biotech innovation.

4. Observe and interview nurses, physicians, patients, pharmacists, technicians…everyone!

One of the challenges of this first Starship edition was to find physicians and hospitals willing to take time and speak to us. Perhaps a sign that scientists, engineers, designers, and business professionals should be, now and then, closer to physicians, especially when NOT sick. The interdisciplinary approach is key to finding unmet clinical needs, invent, and implement solutions. Interviewing and observing physicians allowed us to map several unmet clinical needs in hospitals across Portugal (Porto and Coimbra) and Spain (Barcelona). This critical step changed the paradigm people were used to — thinking of clinical problems first instead of a technology push (Which innovation strategy: technology-push or market-pull?).

5. Be the patient

Me getting ready for my first MRI.

Sometimes observing is not enough. Sometimes interviewing physicians or patients is not enough. Sometimes you really have to commit. After failing to get feedback from MRI technicians, physicians, and patients, I decided to undergo an MRI. I wanted to understand what patients felt, from initial consultation to the exam itself, and post-consultation.

How committed are you? :)

6. Be bold; it’s ok to pivot.

Far into the program, our team realized the needs collected were biased towards a specific solution we were excited about. Several iterations would result in similar needs that failed to withstand further validation. We made a bold decision and decided to pivot, even though it put us completely behind schedule. We set aside all needs we had collected, went back to the clinic with fresh eyes and rolled up our sleeves. It’s a cliché — fail fast — but when you live by it you understand the transformational power it has on a startup.

7. Build networks and give back!

Group photo of Starship fellows, teachers, mentors, and local entrepreneurs, at IESE, Barcelona.

It has been an incredible journey of learning, sharing experiences, and building a solution to an unmet clinical need. I feel more well-rounded as an entrepreneur and healthcare innovator. The network we made is becoming fruitful, and multiple collaboration projects all over Europe are popping up. There is a clear role for EIT Health in training and mentoring the next generation leaders and innovators striving for a stronger European healthcare. How can aspects of these initiatives be improved? What are the outcomes of these programs? How active and productive is the connection with the industry? Answering these questions will help us think about EIT Health 2.0.

Now it’s time for stealth mode, while our team is prototyping a medical device that can change the way we screen for colorectal cancer. See you soon!

Excited about innovation and startups? Tell me about how you are building a local ecosystem! Feel free to contact me through LinkedIn or Twitter.

A special thank you to EIT Health, Daniel Mogefors, Mikołaj Gurdała, Magda Rosenmöller, António Cunha, Jorge Figueira, and all Starship Innovation Fellows. #EIT #EITHealth #Starship #innovation #healthcare