The healthtech sector is predicted to be worth $280bn by 2021, and evangelists say that the digital health revolution is upon us. Hundreds of health techies are building telemedicine apps, diagnostic AIs and wearable gadgets that let patients manage their own health. In the meantime, big data and widespread access to the internet have expanded the scope of medical research. That means there’s tough competition, especially for the young founders hoping to find their way into the digital health space. Thus, healthtech accelerators can be a great way to establish yourself and get funding in a crowded marketplace. But how do you know which ones will suit you and your business?
Here, we survey the wealth of options available to young health tech startups searching for their golden ticket. We’ve inspected their aims, terms, and the people who run them, so that you can decide which accelerator is best for your startup.
Whether you’re looking for a large funding pot and big pharma links, or a free programme for networking and know-how without losing any company equity, below are the specialist accelerators.
What is an accelerator?
An accelerator, as the name suggests, aims to take the brightest young startups and put them on a fast track to success. Usually this is through a fixed-term programme, which combines mentoring from successful entrepreneurs and industry veterans, practical workshops on the nitty-gritty of running a business, and office space in one of Europe’s tech hubs. Some accelerators offer funding to entrants in exchange for company equity, whereas others are completely free. Most end in a graduation of sorts called a “Demo Day”, where teams pitch to investors in the hopes of attracting funding. (Incubators, on the other hand, take in entrepreneurs at an earlier stage and help them develop their ideas into viable businesses.)
Why an accelerator?
Accelerators are like “a rocket booster on a shuttle” for young companies, says Startupbootcamp founder Alex Farcet. With the right combination of funding, mentorship, and networking, they can propel young startups to the stars: tech accelerators like Y Combinator and 500 Startups have made a name for themselves as farms for unicorns – fostering billion-dollar startups like Airbnb, Coinbase, and Twilio. Alumni networks like these are enough alone to pique a founder’s interest in an accelerator.
Why a specialist accelerator?
Specialist programmes give out specialist advice. While a big name accelerator can bring great opportunities for funding and networking, as well as the clout keep attracting investors – it’s important to really know your industry. Founders of accelerated startups say time and again that mentorship is the most valuable part of an accelerator programme, but “in order to be useful, mentors need to have significant industry-specific knowledge and connections within the industry or have extensive experience in setting up businesses themselves.”
Here, Sifted lists the European accelerators specialising in health tech – and what you need to know about them.
Pharma giant Bayer’s G4A runs an accelerator for young digital health startups. Grants4Apps grants office space in Berlin, expertise and investment from Bayer – worth up to €100,000 per company. The programme has two tracks, Growth and Advance – Growth is for early-stage startups hoping to partner with Bayer, in which startups will be given one-time initial funding between €50,000 and €100,000. Advance is for more established startups, and funding will depend on the partnership negotiations with Bayer. Although the programme runs from Berlin, Bayer also has co-working spaces in Moscow and Barcelona. Applications will stay open until May 31.
- What they say: “G4A is a global team of intra and entrepreneurs with presence in 35 countries enabling positive disruption in the digital health and care industry.”
- G4A has accelerated companies such as Modern Fertility, the at-home fertility test which measures hormone levels from a finger-prick; Kinaptic, developing virtual reality rehab for stroke patients; and data solutions company Agamon, which breaks down big health data to improve medical treatments.
- Eugene Borukhovich heads up Bayer’s accelerator. Borukhovich has over fifteen years’ experience in health tech, and has founded networks of innovators including the Future of Health Foundation in Amsterdam and Health 2.0 in New York.
Another pharmaceuticals titan, Merck, funds a three month Innovation Accelerator based in Darmstadt. Startups looking to apply should be creating new solutions in one of Merck’s main sectors: healthcare, life science, or performance materials. Besides workspaces, mentoring and access to Merck’s industry expertise, teams will receive funding grants of €30,000 without losing any company equity. Funding can be negotiated with Merck up to €50,000, but this will come attached to a profit sharing arrangement – usually up to 10%, lasting for seven years.
- What they say: “We are looking for startups with the potential to reshape entire industries and make people’s lives richer.”
- Alumni include: RxAll, a hand-held device that authenticates drugs to prevent counterfeiting; Syrona Women, a hormone test for women for a range of common issues such as infertility and endometriosis; and SophieBot, an AI which answers questions related to sexual health.
- Merck’s Innovation Accelerator is run by Munya Chivasa, an ex-consultant who has a background in biochemistry and intellectual property law.
Startupbootcamp Digital Health Berlin is a three-month accelerator programme supported by big shots in German healthcare like Sanofi, Munich Re, Berlin Institute of Health, Deutsche Apotheker- und Ärztebank and Vilua. In addition to its coaching and networking schedule, it offers €15,000 in living expenses, coworking space in Potsdamer straße and access to 150 mentors, for a 6% stake in each startup.
- What they say: “Family. Global. Network. Focus. We are a global family of industry-focused innovation programs helping ambitious founders scale.”
- Alumni include: BOCA-Health, a device connected to an app that frees up medical staff by remotely monitoring patients’ hydration; AI4medicine, an AI that works to prevent and treat strokes; and Biolumo, a diagnostic machine helping GPs to select the right antibiotics for patients.
- Run by Lars Buch, who founded private investor network DealCircle and early-stage venture capitalists Wasp Ventures. Buch previously worked at accelerators Dare2Mantion and Accelerace.
- So far, 19 startups have entered the accelerator, and their combined funding stands at €3,694,193.
DigitalHealth.London Accelerator’s mission is to speed up the tortuous process of getting new tech into the NHS. It selects between 20 and 30 SMEs each year (according to the European Commission’s definition of SME), and each one gets partnered with an expert “NHS Navigator” who helps the entrepreneur to understand the NHS. Support focuses on the individual firm’s needs, and may include workshops, networking, and one-to-one clinics. Crucially, DigitalHealth.London doesn’t take equity or offer direct funding, but it can connect companies to investors. Applications for 2019-20 closed on April 5, and the year-long programme runs from September to August. The accelerator is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.
- What they say: “Helping small to medium digital health businesses develop and pioneer health care technology specifically for the NHS.”
- DigitalHealth.London Accelerator has previously accelerated Babylon, which developed AI-powered diagnoses and remote consultations with NHS doctors; Changing Health, which helps to manage and prevent Type 2 Diabetes; and Skin Analytics which uses AI to diagnose skin cancers.
- Jenny Thomas is the programme’s director. She has an MBA from London Business School and over ten years’ experience in healthcare management in the NHS.
Health2B Accelerator is a three-month acceleration programme for healthcare startups from across the globe. Based in SmiLe Incubator at the Medicon Village in Lund, their course includes practical coaching from Lean Forward and weekly dinners for networking. The programme is free, so you won’t be funded, but you also won’t sign away any equity to Health2B’s accelerator. However, they do try to match startups with investors with their matchmaking day at the end of the programme. Angel and public funds in their network also participate as mentors. Health2B will open applications in June and start their next batch in mid-September.
- What they say: “It’s time to revolutionise health. We help startups accelerate health & wellness ideas.”
- Participating companies have included EATIMIZE, which provides meal suggestions based on personal nutritional needs; mobile app Cora that helps people manage hypertension; and Ensa, which connects a patient’s medical records with their health apps.
- The programme was founded by Ebba Fahraeus, a business and marketing consultant with thirty years’ experience and currently sits on the board of Apptix ASA, Arc Aroma Pure, The Faculty of Medicine at Lund University, and Connect Skåne.
Rockstart Health has overhauled its programme this year to offer one of the longest health accelerators. Its one-year programme will focus on access to capital, markets, expertise, and community. Rockstart also has accelerators in Energy, Agrifood and Emerging Tech – and the Rockstart name comes with its perks: there’s office space in Nijmegen, close to Health Valley Netherlands, and access to a network of 200+ local and international investors. Rockstart will also offer startups a convertible loan worth between €20,000 and €95,000. Applications will open in May, with the programme beginning in September.
- What they say: “Scaling health impact, by building a community of over 100 health start-ups and scale-ups in Nijmegen through close collaboration with our partners.”
- Alumni include: Tinybots, the “social robots” which help dementia sufferers with daily reminders, audio instructions, and personalised music; Renal Tracker, giving patients with chronic kidney diseases ways to self-manage between appointments; and Sleep.ai, which diagnoses snoring and tooth-grinding while you sleep.
- The programme is directed by Akshat Kshetrapal, an entrepreneur and early-stage investor in healthcare with 10 years’ experience in India and the Netherlands.
Baselaunch is the rarest type of accelerator – it provides investment and support without asking for equity in return. Big industry funding comes from household names like Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Pfizer and Roche, Novartis Venture Fund, Roivant Sciences and other private partners such as KPMG. Grants are available up to 250,000 Swiss Francs per company by the end of the 15-month programme. Basel is already world-famous in life sciences, but as well as industry expertise, the Baselaunch programme offers business development, legal services, plus fully-equipped labs for testing. Baselaunch looks for startups making “breakthrough healthcare innovations mainly in the therapeutics space”, but will also consider new ideas in medtech and diagnostics. The application phase is currently running until May 14th 2019.
- What they say: “The BaseLaunch offers carefully selected ventures non-dilutive financial support, no strings attached access to its Healthcare Partners, knowledge from highly experienced advisors, as well as a state-of-the-art infrastructure.”
- Participating startups include Synendos Therapeutics, working with cannabinoid molecules in the brain to combat anxiety and stress; TheraNASH develops medicines for fatty liver disease; and CellSpring, diagnosing early-stage cancers from new 3D environments.
- The accelerator’s strategy director is Neil Goldsmith, a five-time life sciences entrepreneur with over thirty years experience in five countries (UK, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, USA).
Alicia Barcelona’s Kenko Health is for startups in digital health, biotech and medical devices. Its 4-month programme focuses on growing a business, with individual mentorship from a network of serial entrepreneurs in healthcare and big-time investors. Access to investment and full-time free office space in the Tecnocampus Health Hub.
- What they say: “We are looking for innovative startups in the health sector that have an innovative project with great potential and that can be scalable and invertible.”
- Its 2018 intake included Psycoco, an app that connects patients with the right psychologist for their situation; Brainally, a new tool for improving the independence of children with disorders such as autism, attention deficit disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome.
- The programme is run by Rafael García Escarré, a serial entrepreneur who has cofounded Spanish tech companies including Infinity Comunicaciones and UserZoom. Escarré also acts as investor and mentor on the programme.
Milan’s Open Accelerator, funded by pharmaceuticals tycoon Zambon, aims to lead the way in modern healthcare – with a focus on new drug delivery systems, medical devices, biomarkers, diagnostics, digital health and big data. Open offers three months of mentoring and workshops in Milan’s Life Sciences Campus, at the end of which, select startups may be approached to co-develop their projects with Zambon and receive seed investment of up to €100,000, plus advice and legal support from big name firms like Deloitte and Bird & Bird.
- What they say: “Open Accelerator is the international fast track acceleration program dedicated to projects in life sciences, with a specific focus on Central Nervous System (CNS) and Respiratory diseases.”
- 2018’s cohort included Prindex, a blood test for early diagnosis Multiple sclerosis; LungPass, a digital stethoscope which can remotely monitor lung sounds; and Vilimball, a round device that reduces tremors in the hands of Parkinson’s patients.
Accelerace Medtech Health Care Accelerator in Copenhagen calls itself a “shortcut to the Northern European market”, and helps late-stage startups to scale their business. It’s deliberately “unconventional” for an accelerator – the programme is totally flexible and tailored to individual company needs. Supported by NOME (Nordic Mentor Network for Entrepreneurship) which connects startups with investment and coaching. Equity-free – but it does require your company to register in Denmark. The programme lasts for 6-8 months and accept applications continuously throughout the year.
- What they say: “A passionate acceleration team with more than 100 years of collective experience.”
- Participating companies include VasDeBlock, developers of a surgery-free, hormone-free male contraception; a new hospital bed to prevent sores by GDV technology; and Saninudge, which puts hospital staff’s hand washing into the cloud to encourage accountability for hand hygiene.
- Peter Torstensen runs all branches of the accelerator and the Symbion life sciences park, and is a fellow at Seed Capital Management.
Health VentureLab Budapest is a 6-month acceleration programme for early-stage healthcare startups. HVL’s signature is its 3-day “sprints” at the end of each month, supplemented by mentoring in between. Their programme focuses on networking, with its industry “speed-dating” and the “sister” startup programme whereby teams are paired up for the programme. It’s a free, no-equity programme which came out of a collaboration between GE Health and Budapest-based EIT Health, Europe’s largest healthcare initiative. International teams don’t have to relocate to Budapest, but must be prepared to fly in for a few days each month – and HVL provides partial reimbursement for teams’ travel expenses.
- What they say: “Expert healthcare knowledge, a traction focused path and an international community helps you reach the full potential of your business.”
- Alumni include Tendertec, which has developed tools to help people living alone to prevent and report falls; and Vitadio, which gives remote therapy and nutritional support to diabetes sufferers.
- Run by Daniel Szemerey, a serial entrepreneur who launched Makermap, providing website solutions for businesses, and design consultancy TypeMe_.
Have we missed any health accelerators in Europe? Let us know — comment below.