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Faced with illness or that of a loved one, who wouldn't want access to the most effective health technologies? How can you not want your sick child to be treated and their suffering relieved using the latest innovations? Every day, men and women innovate to help medicine evolve, improve pain management, prevent chronic diseases or find a cure for cancer... "Is it not logical that innovation and R&D in the field of health should meet the needs of patients and health actors as quickly as possible? And that, conversely, the challenges of the medical world might resonate with entrepreneurs ready to turn them into sustainable projects?" asks Paul d'Otreppe, president of the Belgian Association of Hospital Managers (ABDH-BVZD).

"Let's make Belgium THE world's test country for Health Tech innovation"

In Belgium, the Health Tech sector (including medical devices and eHealth) is very dynamic. There are many start-ups in this field and our industry, not to mention its hidden gems, is providing quality products, services and solutions. But these innovations are still underutilised to meet today's challenges. "Our country is struggling to quickly integrate these innovations into the health care sector. Sometimes, there is far too long a delay before patients can benefit from them. Ultimately, Belgium does not enjoy the reputation it deserves in the Health Tech sector. Yet, Belgian entrepreneurs are extremely active and show their ability to bring value to the health sector. It is therefore our responsibility to support them and make Belgium a role model in fostering Health Tech innovation," says Marnix Denys, Director of beMedtech.

All the actions undertaken by HealthTech.Belgium will be done in collaboration with regional initiatives, with the aim of scaling up their projects and strengthening their actions. So, in addition to the three founders of the project, we now have the following partners: BlueHealth Innovation Center, In4Care, lifetech.brussels, MedTech Flanders & MedTech Wallonia. By nature open to collaboration, HealthTech.Belgium will welcome any initiative interested in joining.

It is therefore not yet another cluster, but an umbrella initiative aimed at uniting under the same strong banner and with a desire to work together the existing actions in the Health Tech area of the three regions. This umbrella also aims to scale up worthwhile local initiatives.

The initiative is also supported by Health Minister Maggie De Block and Digital Agenda Minister Alexander De Croo, both of whom participated in the official launch on January 31st.

Multiculturalism, national IT architecture, high quality medical offering, highly qualified staff, top level education, a rich health ecosystem, all contribute to make Belgium, as a small country, a great testing ground. Many assets which are however underutilised. The Belgian Health Tech sector is one of the most dynamic in terms of start-up creation, but their sustained development remains difficult. There is no lack of support initiatives for Health Tech* projects but they remain fragmented despite their strong complementarities.

Faced with these findings, the initiators of HealthTech.Belgium have clear objectives:

  • Strengthen, facilitate and fast track the links between clinical needs and entrepreneurship, while aiming for project excellence.
  • Support the rapid and sustainable development of Health Tech start-ups.
  • Scale up regional projects.
  • Put Belgium on the Health Tech world map so that it becomes a key player, and leverage our strengths by attracting innovation and talent from around the world.
  • Take part and involve entrepreneurs in strong societal challenges, such as value creation, job creation and the practical improvement of solutions to health problems.

Breaking down barriers

"To achieve these objectives and make Belgium the testing ground for Health Tech worldwide, we need to bring together existing actions (both national and regional) under the same strong banner and the same branding," says Marc Lambotte, CEO of Agoria. HealthTech.Belgium is therefore not a cluster designed to superimpose itself on existing ones. This is a federal initiative, which in essence is open to any organisation seeking to get involved and contribute to these goals. In fact, the strength of HealthTech.Belgium lies in the personal commitment of those who contribute to it. All are lending their expertise, their knowledge and time to support the HealthTech.Belgium project.

In addition to facilitating large-scale testing in our health care institutions, HealthTech.Belgium will give project promoters a strong boost by guiding and coaching them, and offering them access to dedicated business development and export programmes. All this based on the "quick start / fail fast" principle.

More specifically, on 1 February 2018, 16 projects from all over the country will begin the acceleration phase thanks to the MedTech Accelerator® programme (http://www.medtech-accelerator.eu/) set up and supported jointly by three regional organisations: lifetech.brussels, MedTech Flanders & MedTech Wallonia. All entrepreneurs who want the faster and stronger roll-out of their Health Tech innovation project are invited to join the initiative!

HealthTech.Belgium offers:

Belgian and foreign entrepreneurs:

  • testing of their products, services and solutions in our health care institutions;
  • a point of contact - i.e. a single gateway - liasing with any suitable initiative and matching their entrepreneurial needs;
  • multiple personalised coaching and fast-track processes ranging from ideation to export, and including the testing and scaling-up stages. This process is divided into four pillars: Create & Learn - Test - Grow - Scale.

At our health care institutions' level:

  • faster access to innovation in medical technologies;
  • the ability to test and assess these innovations, prepare for their implementation while ensuring continuity of care;
  • identification of clinical needs, stumbling blocks and new innovation areas;
  • a possibility for co-creation enabled by a commitment from the early stages of development.

At the company's level:

A tangible response to economic challenges and health priorities:

  • by participating in the practice-based improvement of health care, such as prevention, the treatment of chronic diseases, the increase in (good quality of) life expectation, the reduction of health expenses, etc.;
  • by reducing the stress and workload of the staff of health care institutions, thereby making the profession more attractive and increasing the time care staff can devote to the patient;
  • by creating local jobs and strengthening links with training;
  • by making our country more resilient to future societal challenges.

Who are the various partners in HealthTech.Belgium?

The founding partners:

  • Agoria (Belgian federation of technology companies) - overall project coordination, contribution of internationalisation skills, links with existing industry, business development and growth phase;
  • ABDH (Belgian Association of Hospital Managers) - coordination of hospital testing
  • beMedTech (Belgian Federation of the Medical Technology Industry) - market access coordination, regulatory affairs and financing.

Our structural partners:

  • BlueHealth Innovation Center - coordination of ideation phase and start-up creations
  • In4Care - Teaching, co-creation and coordination of testing in care and well-being institutions, coordination with HIMSS
  • lifetech.Brussels - overall and Brussels-Capital Region MedTech Accelerator® coordination
  • MedTech Flanders - Flemish Region MedTech Accelerator® coordination
  • MedTech Wallonia (consortium of Walloon actors active in medical devices and eHealth) - Walloon Region MedTech Accelerator® coordination, living lab, incubation, collaborative innovation and support for growth.

HealthTech.Belgium is supported by Minister for Social Affairs and Public Health Maggie De Block and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Development Cooperation, Digital Agenda, Telecom and Postal services Alexander De Croo.

*The term Health Tech encompasses Digital Health technologies and Med Tech (biotech and pharma are currently excluded from this scope).