Interview with the Project Coordinator of INNOLABS


5 million EUR will be available for over 100 European SMEs well into 2019. The aim is to create new value chains within the health sector. Here’s an interview with the project coordinator of this EU funded project.

Sergio Ferreira worked previously for an industry association and for the European Commission in Brussels. From 2011 to 2017 he managed EU grants to projects bringing innovative technology to market or supporting companies in realizing competitive edges on a variety of sectors.

Sergio joined Norway Health Tech in May 2017 to reinforce the EU Team. His main responsibility is supporting SMEs in developing and delivering innovative solutions to transform the healthcare sector. INNOLABS is granted 5 Million EUR by the H2020 INNOSUP program of the European Commission to support innovation and prompt new value chains in the healthcare sector over a 2,5 years period, starting on January 1st, 2017.

The project is run by a consortium of 8 partners from 7 different countries, with Norway Health Tech as the coordinator. Partners are mostly technology clusters ranging from Healthcare, ICT to Biotech, bringing together a huge multidisciplinary network and forming a unique ecosystem to support innovation.

What is the main purpose of INNOLABS?

The purpose is to accelerate companies, mostly small and medium enterprises, better known as SMEs, supporting them in bringing disruptive solutions to the healthcare sector. We aim to make a cross over of technology and services from the ICT, biotech, medical and the health care sectors. We want to learn what is being done in other sectors and bring that experience, technology and knowledge to health care, he explains.

What are the project ambitions?

The ambition is to prompt value chain innovation and industrial transformation in the healthcare sector. On one hand, to empower patients, allowing them to remain healthier longer and carry treatments in a more independent manner and, on the other hand, to find better treatment/diagnosis solutions and allow better and more effective remote interaction with healthcare staff. This combination should make for a healthier population and an alleviation of the pressure in the healthcare system, with better health care being delivered at a lower cost, he answers.

With that in mind, the main focus of the project is on the elderly and the rural populations.

There's an aging population and in some countries, many people live in rural areas, not always with the best access to health care. The point is to make a transition in the way that health care is delivered, from a reactive mode, to preventive and proactive mode so that people remain healthier and need the hospital less, Sergio says.

What are the challenges the project is facing?

There are two sets of challenges: On the one hand, the healthcare system is not always prone to innovation. Business continuity is very important, hence any new solution that comes with disruption is difficult to implement. Also, every hospital or healthcare service is different, so there is a huge challenge with integration and leverage across the sector, he says.

On the other hand, he also describes an arena with a sprawl of programs and initiatives for SMEs to engage in and funding available.

That makes it harder for projects like us to attract companies and ideas, because they don't always need more project ideas or even funds, he claims.

So, how do you overcome that?

On the first set of challenges, we work with the hospitals and the healthcare services to engage them early into the innovation process. Like this there is sort of a co-creation of the innovation, making it better fit for the needs and the hospitals much more prone to adopt them, he says.

Sergio Ferreira and Norway Health Tech just organized the 2nd INNOLABS Healthcare Hackathon bringing together challenge owners (hospitals and municipalities) and innovators to come up with innovative ideas to solve two specific challenges in two intense days in Oslo.

There are now several teams engaging with the challenge owners to take their ideas forward.

On the second set of challenges, he underlines that online communication is not enough if you really want to reach a targeted audience.

We meet with every company and make a very clear value proposition: we are not just handing out funds and in return companies report on progress achieved; we add value to their business by working together with them, providing them a set of services and support that is specific for their needs and their stage of development, to bring them closer to the market. Where else do you get this for free? he asks.

What is the process?

First we have a grass roots effort to bring different actors together to stimulate collaboration and consortia to generate new ideas or bring their ideas forward. For this we organize service hackathons, idea competitions, innovation boot camps or other more specific training events or workshops. All this builds momentum to our two main actions in the project – our two Open Calls.

There are two major Open Calls along the project with the purpose of attracting and selecting the best ideas and engage them in our acceleration programs where they get a wealth of support. Once they get into the acceleration program, each company/team is appointed a Key Account Manager (KAM) that will work with and guide the company for the 9 months acceleration. The KAM will perform an analysis with the companies to see where they are, where they want to be in 1-2 years, and how INNOLABS can add value, he says.

Basically, the KAM and the company design a service package that is best fit to the company needs, comprising a combination of services by external providers and by the INNOLABS consortium. To finance this, INNOLABS provides the company with innovation vouchers and cash support.

Services offered can range from a pricing strategy through to dealing with regulatory issues, designing a clinical trial or a usability test, all along the leaning of their business model. The INNOLABS consortium has a wealth of experience with innovation support, but we are building a pool of qualified external service providers from which the companies can source support, he says.

The first INNOLABS Open Call just closed, attracting 117 teams from all around Europe. We are now in the process of selecting the best 50 to engage them in our acceleration program.

The expectation is that the project nurtures well over 100 companies in growing their business and bringing innovative solutions to the market, supporting the transformation of the healthcare sector with new value streams.