- In Poland, access to funding for healthcare start-ups is still insufficient, but this is changing. Polish funds increasingly see the need to invest in this segment - indicates Natalia Świrska-Załuska from OVHcloud. This change has been driven not only by the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also by the progressive aging of the population, which increases the demand for digital solutions in healthcare. Polish start-ups, on the other hand, are doing well in creating such solutions and have a growing position on the international scene.
- As the "Rock Health" report shows, 2021 was a breakthrough year for healthcare start-ups, we had more than 730 investments with a total value of $30 billion. This shows how big the demand is, which was further increased by the COVID-19 pandemic - Natalia Świrska-Załuska, Startup Program Manager CEE at OVHcloud, tells Newseria Biznes agency.
The two years of the pandemic were a time of rapid adoption of digital solutions in medicine and development of areas such as telemedicine, wearables or digital patient care. As a result, healthcare start-ups are also doing increasingly well. The rapid aging of the population is also an important factor contributing to this.
- Our population is getting older every year, so our life expectancy is also getting longer, and patients' needs are becoming greater. On the other hand, there are fewer and fewer doctors who have to serve these patients. That is why we need solutions which can comprehensively support both patients and doctors' work - says Andrzej Zakręcki, CEO of Mediprintic.
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As he points out, medical innovations are primarily aimed at improving the comfort and safety of patients or reducing the time of hospital stay. On the other hand, they are aimed at increasing the effectiveness of the work of medical staff, providing them with tools which make their work easier and save time, and at the same time ensure savings for the entire health care system.
According to the Polish Development Fund, there are currently 2914 start-ups operating in Poland. The latest report by the Startup Poland Foundation shows that the medtech sector, i.e. services in the area of medicine and health, is one of the most popular areas of their activity. It ranks third (after artificial intelligence, machine learning and e-commerce), and about 13 percent of Polish innovative companies are developing in this sector.
According to the "Top Disruptors in Healthcare 2021" report, which is a review of innovative medical start-ups in Poland, more than half of the surveyed companies operate in the field of telemedicine, 45 percent indicate the area of AI/machine learning, and on the third place of the podium are medical devices ex aequo with the area of medical data (37 percent each). Compared to the previous version of the survey, an increase in interest in artificial intelligence in health is evident. 70 percent of the surveyed group of start-ups create innovations in collaboration with hospitals.
- Poland has fantastic engineers, IT specialists, developers and programmers. We try to use it better and better, and the technologies offered by Polish companies are already popular not only in Poland but are also scalable in Europe and other foreign markets - says Krzysztof Mędrala, CEO of MedApp.
Polish start-ups realize that the domestic healthcare market is too small to achieve significant success on it. Already 17 percent of all Polish medical start-ups successfully offer their products commercially abroad. More than one-third of the surveyed companies operate on foreign markets through signed letters of intent, commercial contracts or registered revenue from the foreign market. Slightly more than half are not yet present on foreign markets, but have plans to do so.
- Polish start-ups have a good position on the international market, but the best is still to come. We have a few unicorns in the field of technologies dedicated to medicine which are widely recognized, but we also have a lot of companies which have the potential to become such unicorns - says Krzysztof Mędrala.
Last year, Poland already had its first unicorn (that is, a technology start-up with a valuation exceeding $1 billion), which was DocPlanner, a platform for booking medical services. In its latest report, the Startup Poland Foundation also points to a few other Polish companies in the medical industry which have a great potential for development. They include, among others, the Genomtec ID platform, which has a chance to completely change the approach to genetic diagnostics and bring it closer to the patients, so that the diagnosis could be made during a single medical visit, and the genetic test could be conducted by a doctor, nurse or paramedic.
- To become unicorns, start-ups need a variety of support. First of all, access to capital and an understanding of the growing demand for telemedicine, digital healthcare. But I think the pandemic has already allowed us to see that demand. Secondly, there is also a need for substantive support, opening up of public institutions to implement such projects and products - says Natalia Świrska-Załuska.
Among the surveyed medical start-ups, the most popular form of financing is definitely the founders' own funds (the so-called boostrapping). This method is used by 62 percent of start-ups included in the report "Top Disruptors in Healthcare 2021". (a year earlier it was declared by 31 percent of respondents). As its authors emphasize, this shows, on the one hand, the high faith of start-up founders in their ventures, but, on the other hand, it may indicate difficulties in obtaining external funding. Grants are the next most popular category of financing - 34% of respondents use EU grants and 31% use national grants. Still very few Polish medical start-ups arouse the interest of foreign investors - only 9% of respondents obtained such support.
- Access to funding for healthcare start-ups in Poland is still insufficient, but this is also changing. Polish funds more and more clearly see the need to invest in this segment. This was also confirmed by the breakthrough year 2021, when total investments in this industry were the highest in years - adds Natalia Świrska-Załuska.
Innovations in medicine and situation of healthcare start-ups were the topic of one of the latest meetings held as part of Thursday Gathering. These are cyclical meetings of the community of innovators that provide an opportunity to discuss the latest trends, exchange experiences and establish business contacts. They are organized every Thursday at 5 p.m. in Varso in Warsaw by Venture Café Warsaw Foundation and its partners.