Funding for eHealth businesses – whether for startups or major established corporations – is booming. As long ago as 2013, the eHealth market was valued at over $5 billion.
Now that initiatives in the eHealth field – whether we are talking about apps or wearables – are on the rise all over the world, how can European companies looking to set up such ventures find suitable funding, especially seed capital in the early stages of the venture, to help them bring their ideas to fruition? Finance providers are now well aware of the prospects which such projects hold and are beginning to step up their involvement. One such organisation is bpifrance, which has for years been playing a key role in France in providing financial support and assistance to small and medium-sized enterprises, facilitating access to banks and equity capital investors, in particular during the high-risk phases, and is now turning its attention to the healthcare industry. ‟It’s worth pointing out that in 2014 eHealth was the area of medical technology that received the greatest support,” explained Sebastien Rul, Head of Innovation at bpifrance, during the eHealth University conference that took place in Castres in southern France on 2-4 July.
Both major corporations and startups getting involved
BPI has set up three programmes – Innovation Support, Collaborative Programmes and Equity Funding – with the aim of increasing support for eHealth companies. Each programme may receive up to a total of €50 million in direct funding. One example of funded ventures is MelanOpTIC, which is developing a solution designed to help dermatologists make an early diagnosis of melanoma via smartphone or tablet, another is the PICADo project, whose aim is to design, produce and validate the first operational multi-pathology (i.e. cancer, diabetes, et al) medical-care-at-home system.
There are a number of opportunities for startups, mainly via crowfunding. Wellfundr, which L'Atelier reported on recently, is one such platform, and the site is helping to make people more aware of crowdfunding. In France in 2014 close to €152 million was raised through this channel. Wellfundr offers a range of solutions – reward based, Crowd Equity, Crowd Lending – and has shown a 66% success rate for companies which place their ventures with the site. Swiss startup digitalMedLab went to Wellfundr to raise funds to develop WoundDesk, a mobile app enabling doctors to track how lesions are healing remotely.
Financing at European level
Meanwhile in the European Union as a whole there is no shortage of funding initiatives. Project finance is central to the EU strategy, with the entreprise europe network, funded by the European Commission, working in 63 countries to provide useful information to small companies looking to set up or scale up. Another EU flagship programme is Horizon 2020, the biggest-ever EU Research and Innovation programme, running from 2014 to 2020. The priority of this programme is to identify problems in society and encourage technology providers and researchers to come up with solutions.
Among a number of collaborative projects aiming to encourage innovation in the UK, one called the MALCOLM project (an acronym for Mapping Assisted Living Capability Over La Manche), is a partnership between SEHTA – the South East Health Technologies Alliance in the UK – and Lower Normandy in France, designed to stimulate innovation in these two regions which have been lacking initiatives. MALCOLM’s first goal is to create the tools needed to comprehend the opportunities for implementing eHealth technology in these coastal regions, which tend to attract an ageing population. The basic thrust of the project is to foster solutions for supporting patients and simplifying their medical care procedures by providing smaller companies interested in this field with information, decision-making support and opportunities for networking.