Opportunities, challenges and first partnerships of the Slovenian health-tech scene

Day 6. November 2014 posted Stanislava Vabšek
Informal partner ecosystems of health-tech companies are already being created in Slovenia. One of them is formed by Marand together with MESI, Modra jagoda, In·Medica, Mobili, University Medical Centre Ljubljana and the Laboratory for Telecommunications at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering. Their aim is to aid in faster breakthrough to the global market and this topic was – besides connecting the Slovenian health-tech community – one of the key topics of the first meeting yesterday. Healthday.si was attended by numerous participants with a huge interest in the discussed topics and had surpassed all expectations of the organizers.
Yesterday, more than 170 participants took their first steps towards a strong health-tech community in Slovenia.  

The welcome speech was done by Tomaž Gornik, CEO and co-founder of company Marand, who said that in healthcare, one of the most promising and fast-growing industries, expenditures in developed countries already reach from 7 to 18 % of GDP. Healthcare in combination with modern information technologies promises many new business opportunities and business models that put the patient into the spotlight, as well as new players, such as Walmart who announced they wish to become number one in healthcare 14 days ago in Forbes.
Tomaž Gornik, CEO and co-founder of company Marand: "We can help complementary start-ups by giving them a platform on which they can build their solution, test environments and get help entering markets abroad."


We need new technological solutions ...

In an industry that is so dynamic and yet quite regulated, and where things still change slowly due to rigid systems of things in certain countries, including Slovenia, a need for new technological solutions has appeared. Especially such solutions that would simplify the existing mechanisms for exchanging medical information and should include new, modular architectures, collection and analysis of all possible information about the patient, as well as analysis and support for making decisions.

and partner health-tech ecosystems

What’s increasingly more apparent is the need for new partner ecosystems that would connect start-ups, established companies, doctors and other important players that enable small, united providers to contend with the market’s bigger players. Such an ecosystem is for instance already informally formed by Marand, MESI, Modra jagoda, In·Medica, Mobili, University Medical Centre Ljubljana and the Laboratory for Telecommunications at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, had announced Gornik, and pointed out all its main advantages and opportunities:
  • building modular solutions based on standard platforms,
  • using the “open-data, open API” principle for gaining competitive advantage,
  • including doctors and healthcare professionals in the development of solutions, and
  • partnerships as a stepping stone to success on the global market. 

Marand is offering a hand to complementary start-ups

According to Gornik, company Marand mostly helps young start-ups in the field of healthcare by giving them a platform on which they can build their solution faster, as well as test environments and very valuable help when it comes to entering markets abroad. “Of course that’s for those start-ups that have a complementary activity, namely all those that have to store more complex clinical data. All start-ups present at the event have their own storage solutions, but the market makes them realize that customers expect comprehensive solutions and not a bunch of fragmented ones. The advantage of our platform is that it has an open data model, which means that a start-up can come up with its own structure for data storage and build it into our platform,” concluded one of the instigators of partnerships between companies in the field of healthcare and technology.

Jakob Šušterič, CEO and co-founder of MESI: "So far, we've changed the business model and the contract with distributors four times in order for them to be more engaged when selling our devices."

Where does a start-up spend the most energy?

Participants listened to Jakob Šušterič, CEO and co-founder of the start-up MESI, explain how demanding it is to make a breakthrough in the field of medicinal diagnostics. The start-up is developing and marketing the automatic ankle brachial index measuring device for quickly and precisely diagnosing the peripheral arterial disease. Four milestones on which MESI had spent the most energy in the past four years were: the development of the study prototype, its way to the CE registration, international sales, and pivot of the business model that they had changed four times so far. Thus now, they don’t give free demo devices to distributers anymore, but rather demand a starting order of a certain number of devices in order to ensure a bigger engagement. They also invest a lot into marketing and raising awareness of users. MESI has already sold about 900 of its devices, and is planning new products, such as MESI mTablet, which will combine data of the health history of the patient, data from advanced diagnostic methods and data from the patient’s home environment, for example from fitness bracelets and other smart devices.

Nataša Pirc Musar, former authorized information representative: "Personal data in healthcare are especially sensitive. Make sure that they are used only for their original purpose and don't excessively rely on the diligence of cloud service providers but rather additionally check them yourselves."


Protect user privacy

Nataša Pirc Musar, former authorized information representative who is today devoting herself to an independent path in the field of legal counseling and advocacy, warned about the specific fields in personal data protection on which start-ups that work in healthcare can also lose a lot of time and energy. According to her, what’s a nightmare to the protectors of privacy are numerous new users, centralized databases and the increasingly bigger amount and appeal of the collected information, for which you have to ensure suitable protection but especially prevent it from being used for purposes other than those for which they were initially collected. She also warned start-ups that are developing healthcare applications about excessively relying on providers of cloud services. When it comes to them, the following questions are appropriate: is suitable data protection ensured, who has access to information and what happens to it in case the cloud provider stops existing or if the company wishes to break off collaboration with them?
Roundtable, led by Tina V. Vavpotič, Xlab, also saw participate: Jure Pučko, Doctrina partner and co-founder, Matija Geržina, Atech sales manager, Matjaž Krč, business angel and mentor, Matjaž Špan, cardiovascular surgeon and MESI founder, Tomaž Gornik, Marand CEO and co-founder, Stanislav Pušnik, MSc, occupational, traffic and sports medicine specialist and manager of United4Health Slovenia.


Challenge in sales, and SK50 and SK200 as examples of best practice

We had concluded the event with a roundtable that pointed out the already known but at the same time crucial challenge of Slovenian innovations: we know how to develop, but not how to sell. The Slovenian market may be good for testing the product and collecting first user feedback, but then it’s necessary to go abroad as soon as possible. An average time limit in which the start-up has to get a contract abroad, for example in the USA, is six months. For start-ups that find it difficult to join the system of public contracts due to a lack of references, recommendations from existing customers are very important, as they give credibility and ensure faster access to new users. Tenders SK50 and SK200 of the Slovene Enterprise Fund were pointed out as an example of best practice that ensures a network of mentors who support breakthrough to markets abroad. And finally, an advice for start-ups when including doctors in the development of new products and applications: find synergies in the sense of comprehensive systemic solutions that solve everyday problems of patients and doctors as quickly as possible.

Besides the already mentioned speakers, the following individuals talked about the opportunities and challenges of the Slovenian health-tech community at the event: Boris Herman, internationally recognized lecturer and consultant in the field of Apple technologies, Rok Vrbica, company member of CodeMonkee and developer of healthcare mobile applications, Andraž Ogorevc, idea leader of the iHELP project, the mobile application that shortens the emergency rescue times, and Borut Fabjan, programme manager in company Marand.

Watch the reportage from the event (click on the picture) done by Svet from the channel Kanal A.

The event is organized by InternetWeek.si, Initiative Start:up Slovenia, Marand, MESI, Xlab and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Slovenia. By organizing the event we wish to present this field as an attractive one to the Slovenian start-up community, enable knowledge transfer, and connect various aspects of business as faced by development companies in the field of healthcare. This was the first of several events we are planning. Stay up to date and apply for e-news at Healthday.si.
Communications and PR Start:up Slovenija
Izvedba: Mojdenar IT d.o.o.