The original version of this interview with Sylvie Bove, CEO of EIT Health, is available on biocat.cat.
“Contributing to the change that needs to take place in the life sciences in Europe in order to address future health challenges even more effectively.” This is how Sylvie Bove summed up her goals two years ago when she was named CEO of EIT Health, a community sponsored by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) to promote European leadership and competitiveness in health. Bove’s ideas are very clear but it isn’t easy to lead a consortium with more than 150 partners all over Europe, including some here in Catalonia such as AQaS, Biocat, IDIBAPS, IDIBELL, IESE, ISGlobal, l’Hospital Clínic, IrsiCaixa, Leitat, Sant Joan de Déu or Universitat de Barcelona, among others. In this interview, Bove looks back on the first two years of EIT Health, explains the road map for the next three years and highlights the potential for Catalan companies and organizations. The most enticing, the resources: the community could see its budget triple, with up to €100 millions in 2020.
In 2016 a lot of EIT efforts went into establishing the organization, and the focus for 2017 has been to further refine your goals and vision. Which are the main outcomes of these two first years of work and how well do these outcomes match the initial goals?
These 2 years have been intensive in getting organized. However, in these 2 first years, we have already created and accelerated a number of start-ups by linking the strong incubators and accelerators in Europe with each other. These companies grew faster thanks to our support among others giving them feedback which improved their business plans and access to potential customers.
In Innovation, matchmaking activities have allowed several local projects to interact and collaborate with new partners they had never thought to collaborate with, to either develop the project in a new direction, increase its impact or even doing projects together outside the EIT Health.
Regarding Education, we have connected many students who have seen interesting opportunities through our summer schools, citizen initiatives and master programs.
What will we see in 2018? When will patients and citizens see tangible results?
We are now more stable as an organization and we are entering a phase in which EIT Health will receive substantial increase in funding: We received 33 million euros in funding form the EIT in 2017, next year we are aiming at 56 million, and funding is expected to increase to between 80 and 100 m € per year by 2022. We have the potential to create major impact and therefore need to be very clear about where we are going to put this money. First, we need to discuss together with EIT Health partners to identify in which areas we can create impact by 2020. Then, we have to define impact measures and make sure the instruments we run are focused on delivering on our goals. By adjusting the instruments and adding money, we believe we will create tangible impact in the next 3 years. By that, we mean new approaches and solutions that are implemented in the real life, impacting the life of citizens and making healthcare systems more efficient and sustainable.
During EIT Health’s first year of operation in 2016, 18 start-ups/spin-offs were created. How many companies are you expecting to be created in 2017?
In 2016 we expected to create 7 companies, but we created 18. We also saw 22 product launches in 2016 and our goal in 2017 is 43 and 45 for 2018. Regarding startups, we are supporting 95 startups in 2017 and 150 in 2018, multiplying Accelerator activities thanks to the increase of funding and our partner’s commitment.
EIT Health consortium has more than 140 partners from all across Europe. Which advantages and disadvantages do you face because of working with a so big network?
The advantages are that we are bringing to the table people with very complementary skills and experience. They represent the whole ecosystem and the relevant stakeholders in order to develop and implement innovative solutions. As can be expected, it is a complex task to manage the different cultures and expectations that you have around the table. We need clear objectives and alignment, so we can bring together the partners and engage them in meaningful activities that will create value for each of our partners
Which advantages has this network for its partners, particularly for the companies?
For the big companies, one of the advantages is that they are at the forefront of what is happening. They can see which technologies are emerging, identify new talent to bring into their company, and even find acquisition candidates.
For the SMEs, EIT Health helps them understand quickly where their opportunities lie thanks among others to access to a network with potential customers, partners and employees. We have instruments to help them grow faster by understanding the market and opening relationships. Opening doors to talk to some people is much easier if you are part of the same network.
The Spanish colocation center is very active in all EIT activities. Which challenges and opportunities do you see for our collocation center?
Every time I meet the Spanish EIT Health partners I get impressed by their engagement and by the level of the projects that are ongoing here. Another thing that impresses me is how open Spanish public healthcare providers are open to innovation: we would like to see more of this in every country!
On the other hand, the Spanish node has been very small and scarce in resources. This is why I have been actively working to increase its resources in order to enlarge the support to the local partners. This means having people on the ground that can help your partners navigate the EIT environment in order focus their efforts primarily on activity and less in bureaucracy.
What do you see as the main challenges for EIT Health?
The level of administration and bureaucracy we currently have is extremely high. Partners perceive it, but we perceive it too. One of the discussions we have with EIT is related to a three year Business Plan, which would reduce administration considerably.
Another challenge is related to the environment and all the changes Europe is living. We depend on the European framework so we need to position EIT and EIT Health as strong as we can, focusing on creating impact in order to be a useful initiative to invest in. The future budgets depend on the new framework FP9 negotiations which have already started.