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LEAD Innovation Blog

Read our latest articles on innovation management and innovation in a wide range of industries.

Date: 28-Nov-2018
Posted by: Daniel ZAPFL

How start-ups circumvent obstacles to innovation in medicine


There is not the right medicine for every disease. Instead of waiting for a solution from the pharmaceutical industry, health insurance companies or doctors, many people are turning to self-help: they develop innovations and start start-ups that alleviate their own suffering, help other people affected and earn money with them. Sometimes the established health system throws beating between their feet.

The rigid system of health insurance companies

Innovations are particularly important in medicine, as they not only increase sales or enable new products, but are directly related to healing, well-being and health improvement. But it is precisely in this sector that barriers to innovation exist. Our health system is rigid and immovable: 19 compulsory health insurance funds form the basis for this. The cash flow for services is determined from outside.


Professional affiliation decides on medical treatment

An employee of Wiener Stadtgärten is automatically insured differently than a self-employed hairdresser or a farmer, the contributions and benefits could hardly be more different, changes are not permitted. However, additional private insurance is possible. Only professional groups such as doctors, notaries, tax consultants or civil engineers, pharmacists or lawyers can choose a private basic health insurance through an opting-out. 

Trend Collection Medical

However, the health system is not only complex and therefore expensive, but has also long since lost direct contact with patients. Due to cost pressure, hardly any doctor has time to really listen to the patient. On the other hand, it would be necessary to recognize the requirements, wishes and complaints in order to develop meaningful and useful innovations. But our health system systematically prevents this. The pharmaceutical industry itself also only has a limited ear for the wishes and needs of patients. After all, patient-centered innovation is more of an exception than a rule. This is shown in an interview with Helmut Kogler, Director Customer Excellence of the BioPharma company AbbVie.


Get right to the problem

The health system is so rigid that some are turning to self-help. The startup MySugr is a good example of this phenomenon: The Austrian startup sees itself as a diabetes service company that wants to make everyday diabetes therapy more bearable and easier. The founder and the majority of the now 30-strong team live with diabetes themselves. With the developed apps, the Diabetes Academy and the web services, MySugr not only gained the trust of patients, but also of potent sponsors: Austria Wirtschaftsservice (AWS) and Business Angel Hansi Hansmann support the young company, which was founded in 2012.


Sick people and LEAD users

For mySugr, one of the greatest obstacles to innovation, not only in medicine, is ignorance. No one can seriously think about how to do something better if they cannot grasp the problem or do not see it at all. Only a diabetic can see what problems need to be overcome and how this could work. Chronically ill people are therefore perfect LEAD users in many cases: they have needs that the majority do not have. And they benefit from a solution found for the problem itself.


Overcoming the fear of eating

Another example of how medically affected people can help themselves is Kiweno.

Bianca Gfrei, co-founder of the start-up, tells Futurezone: "The idea came to me two and a half years ago. I had an intolerance myself, a permanent stomach ache and a real fear of eating, because I no longer knew what was good for me and what was not. It was a medical marathon for me." Since the medical profession in Western Austria only deals with the subject very peripherally, it has founded a start-up company with internists, sports scientists and other partners that initially offered inexpensive and easy tests for food intolerances.

Kiweno now has 28 employees and offers histamine tests and sleep quality tests as well as skin and hair sensitivity. A blog provides tips and recipes and the website visitor is informed: "We won't leave you alone with your results." Kiweno is one of Austria's most successful startups: business angels such as Hansi Hansmann and former Swatch Group CEO Rudolf Semrad are involved.


Expert opinion as an obstacle to innovation

However, Kiweno's food intolerance tests have become controversial. In April 2016, for example, the profile was entitled "Kiweno: Questionable tests for food intolerances". Well-known experts will have their say there, questioning the method of the tests sold by Kiweno. These objections, whether they are true or not, show one phenomenon above all: the "Not-invented-here Syndrome": things that in this case no expert from the medical profession himself has developed can simply be of no value. Even if the doubting experts are right, there is another way: one could develop meaningful incompatibility tests together with Kiweno. The need for simple solutions is there. Without Kiweno, as the founder herself described, they must continue to suffer great suffering and be afraid of eating. Established medicine can't really want that either.


Conclusion: How start-ups overcome obstacles to innovation in medicine

Innovations usually arise exactly where the problem for a not yet found solution is. The knowledge of the problem can then be poured into a concrete search field. With the help of the right innovation method, the path to a patentable solution is then not far. Start-ups proceed in a very similar manner and thus often arrive at solutions in which the very big pharmaceutical giants are also interested. For example, the aforementioned start-up MySugr now also has Roche Ventures on board. By the way: The first successful Caesarean section was performed by a Swiss named Jacob Nufer in the 15th century after his wife had suffered for days in childbirth. Nufer wasn't a doctor, he was a pig castrator. The practical experience from his profession and the need have made him choose a means that doctors from all over the world use today as a matter of course.

Trend Collection for the Medical industry

Daniel ZAPFL

Born in Graz, Austria. After positions as project manager & head of innovation of the project management at LEAD Innovation, Daniel Zapfl has been responsible for the success of the innovation projects of our innovation partners since January 2018.

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