Berlin — the place to be for European Digital Health Entrepreneurs!

This article has been written by Ute Mercker, Investment Director and Head of Life Science at IBB Beteiligungsgesellschaft, the Venture Funds of the state of Berlin

Berlin has proven itself as a thriving ecosystem for healthcare innovation and boasts of 35 large research institutes and universities focusing on life sciences, including internationally renowned institutions as well as a vibrant start-up scene.

All stakeholders are located here
For digital health innovation to reach the patient´s bedside some vital prerequisites need to be met: IT and data protection infrastructure, regulatory approval, and most importantly reimbursement. This requires close cooperation of the players in the healthcare market, including regulatory bodies, insurance companies, pharma companies, hospitals and doctors, and last but not least innovative start-ups. With the Federal Ministry of Health, the federal associations of the public and private health funds, the German Medical Association, the hospitals Charité and Vivantes, as well as Bayer Pharma AG and the German Headquarters of Sanofi and Pfizer all having their seat in Berlin, the necessary cooperation is taking place here. And, as you will see the start-ups are placed in the center of these initiatives.

Cooperation in many different ways
A couple of years ago pharma companies established programs like Bayer´s Grants-4-Apps Accelerator or Pfizer´s Healthcare Hub Berlin in order to make the best possible use of the emerging technologies` potential and to participate in the entrepreneurial spirit of start-ups. Furthermore, Helios Group, one of the largest providers of inpatient and outpatient patient care in Europe, has established the Helios Hub at its Headquarters in Berlin. The Helios Hub teaches in-depth knowledge of clinical practitioners to the start-ups in the Accelerator, and also opens the chance to test creative concepts for the hospital sector in test phases and roll-outs with regards to practical suitability and relevance. On top of that the Federal Ministry of Health established its Health Innovation Hub — HIH, which performs the bridging function between the start-up companies and the other stakeholders in the Health Care system. The first engagement of the Hub´s team was a roadshow to all German healthcare clusters in order to introduce the upcoming new bill called “Digitales Versorgungsgesetz”, which is providing a clear path to reimbursement for patient centered digital apps.

Hospitals are taking the Lead
Charité, Europe´s largest university clinic, has established the Digital Health Accelerator as part of Berlin Health Innovations, the joint technology transfer unit of Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and Charité. It aims to provide innovative teams with the crucial impetus and necessary professionalism required to bring business models and products into the market — and thus ultimately to patients. The Unfallkrankenhaus Berlin (ukb), a trauma center for maximum care, supports other hospitals in the northern federal states with its Institute for Telemedicine through digital radiology and tele-neurology. In fact at Vivantes, Germany’s largest municipal hospital group, pathology is already digitized. Tissue sections are digitally available for case discussions and tumor conferences. The hospital has also been involved in a model phase with the “Caspar” rehab app, in which digital telenachsorge will be tested until the end of 2021.

Payers — paving the way into reimbursement
In 2018, five public health funds, including SBK, the Siemens health funds, decided to offer a platform for market entry into the first healthcare market. The Healthy Hub has already the first group of start-ups offering their products to the funds´ patients and is in the process of selecting the next companies. The start-ups get the unique opportunity to test their product in pilot projects under real market conditions. During the pilot phase their products or services are reimbursed by the public health funds for 6 month. At the end of the pilot phase, a Proof of Concept evaluation is made, examining under which conditions the digital product or services can be used by care providers and reimbursed by the public health funds.

Science — securing the funds for future Excellency
The three Berlin Universities and the Charité, together the “ Berlin University Alliance”, were able to convince the jury of the German federal and state governments’ Excellence Strategy to fund their joint proposal for an integrated research environment with up to 196 million Euro. Across individual networks, institutions, and disciplines, the network aims to become the heart and driving force of an excellent Berlin “ecosystem”, consisting of universities and non-university research institutions, scientific collections, museums, cultural and political institutions, as well as start-ups and partners from the industrial sector. Additionally, the Berlin Big Data Center (BBDC), located at the TU Berlin, will receive funding for three additional years. Partners in the BBDC are among others the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), the Konrad-Zuse-Zentrum für Informationstechnik and the Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin. Together they aim to develop automatically scalable technologies that can quickly organize and intelligently analyze vast amounts of heterogeneous data.

With all these initiatives in place you might want to know how Berlin`s digital health start-up and investor ecosystem is evolving… watch out for our next blogpost.

Originally published at on September 18, 2019.