How to innovate health in Poland. International lessons from the best. 

May 8, 2024

In April 2023 Venture Café Warsaw invited a delegation of representatives of the Polish med tech sector, NIL IN and medical doctors to visit Rotterdam, NL and get inspired by one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Read more in the post.

In April, Venture Café Warsaw invited a delegation of representatives of the Polish med tech sector, NIL IN and medical doctors to visit Rotterdam and to get inspired by one of the best healthcare systems in the world.

At the end of 2023, with representatives of NIL IN, Venture Café Warsaw decided to initiate a project aiming to explore opportunities for partnerships and synergies that drive advancements in healthcare and medical technology, leading to better health for all.

The project is called Innovate Health and provides leaders in the health science and medtech industry an opportunity to come together to foster collaboration and innovation. The main partners of the project, that is EIT Health, Novartis Poland, and Vinci S.A., decided on a clear goal for our activities: to improve the implementation of innovation in Polish hospitals, care facilities, and public infrastructure.

During the first meeting on February 22nd, 2024, we realized that the struggle is real, whether you are a founder of a startup, an investor, a medical doctor, or a hospital manager. We have barely touched the surface during four educational sessions, opened by the Director of the Medical Chamber of Physicians Łukasz Jankowski, yet realized the interest and engagement from various industries, proving the concept of diving deeper.

And deeper, and further we got. The second event of the series of four, has been planned to happen in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. The reason for traveling to another European country was threefold: to learn, to experience, and to get inspired by one of the best healthcare systems in the world.

The party consisted of partners of the project, medical practitioners, and health science innovators. At first, we visited Erasmus Medical Center, where we had the chance to learn about the history of the city of Rotterdam, its unique demography, and its role in supporting the growth of the health science cluster – Rotterdam Square

From this first presentation, by Rotterdam municipality representative. Jeanette Leete, one could already better understand the core value that guides the procedures: collaboration. Our next speaker, Ellen Smit, responsible for running the Rotterdam Square, gave us even more insight into what Dutch healthcare collaboration looks like. She explained the ongoing efforts to facilitate, similarly to our project, various stakeholders from the whole ecosystem: health science corporates, universities, researchers, and startups. The idea behind building one facility that could host them is not new to the Venture Café Warsaw, yet seeing this come to fruition with such strong support from the municipality and three universities was a somewhat remarkable experience.

The next presenter of the visit at the Erasmus Medical Center left us all in awe. Prof. Dr. Ir. Jan Carel Diehl from TU Delft told us about The Sustainable Hospital initiative, aiming to reduce the environmental impact of health interventions, especially those happening at a green, operating block of a hospital. Prof. Diehl provided many examples that left us flabbergasted, like the number of gloves used in the Intensive Care Unit. Last, but not least, Jasper Klasen, working on the project, gave a testimony on his project whose goal is to measure the volume of packaging used in patient treatment.

After a content-packed morning, we made a quick tour of the stunning area of the hospital and moved quickly to another location – Spark Design & Innovation. From its website description, we learned that Spark is a team of 30+ talented designers and engineers. The studio in Rotterdam works with clients worldwide to create meaningful, breakthrough innovations and designs. It made us curious about the connection between design and healthcare, yet we were not disappointed. We learned that Spark designers, through their work, get to build relationships with surgeons, caregivers, and various innovators that bring the most advanced objects and tools in healthcare to life. We got to see, touch, and experience the fruits of their collaborative work and admire the values the team has to take it to patients: dignity and prolonging the quality of life for all.

The next point on our agenda took us to IDE Group, an international consultancy company offering crucial support to growing healthcare ventures. Daan Hittema, Business Development Leader for Europe, opened our horizons on the role of experts in the Dutch healthcare system. IDE Group’s experience in accelerating, scaling, and even developing medtech solutions marked yet another successful factor in involving entrepreneurial spirit in this industry. Daan mentioned how important it is to work closely with medical doctors and that their opinion holds a lot of value when developing new solutions in the healthcare sector.

The last part of the event took place in the wonderful CIC Rotterdam spaces, and our welcoming keynote was held by Senior Health Advisor of Zoorginstituut, Robin Toorneman. Robin helped our party and other guests fill in some missing knowledge gaps – namely, a better understanding of how the healthcare system in the Netherlands works. He started by explaining the most important values the Dutch follow in sustaining their healthcare system, like solidarity, universal access, compulsory insurance, and high quality of care. We discovered how high the current GDP spending for healthcare is (11%) and understood better the role of private healthcare providers in the sector. Robin explained that the current challenges they face mostly involve the aging of the population, rising costs, and shortages in the workforce. Yet, in my opinion, the most fascinating fact was, yet again, mentioning the importance of collaboration on the polder model example, which simply indicates that the Dutch people do not like hierarchy, and they like to involve as many stakeholders in the decision-making process to ensure its long-lasting efficiency.

We finished the event with two panel discussions, involving Dutch and Polish corporate, startups, and service provider presence, where we learned about the importance of proximity from Marcus Fernhout from Kadans, mobility and international resources from Maurice van Rotterdam from Sciental, and access to advanced infrastructure from Irek Roslon from Soundcell. Our delegation representatives were very eager to share what amazing opportunities we currently have in Poland. Kazimierz Murzyn explained the foundation of the Health Science Cluster in Krakow, Karolina Tadel provided invaluable insight into the startups and corporate collaboration she experienced in her career both form startup ecosystem and Novartis Poland’s perspective, and Karol Lis mentioned his path into establishing a health science startup Saventic and that we still have a lot to regulate, meaning there is a lot of capacity to innovate for everyone.

This has been a truly wholesome learning path but also an unforgettable bonding experience, where we all became a bit closer to other stakeholders from the healthcare industry, understood better the challenges we have as a whole, and received a solid dose of inspiration, which will enhance our future endeavors for strengthening the healthcare ecosystem in Poland.

Dominika Duda
Program Director - Venture Café Warsaw Foundation