FH21: Corporate-Startup Collaboration – Building Win-Win Partnerships

During the amazing Frontiers Health Conference 2021, a special panel was organized to better understand how to build win-win partnerships through corporate-startup collaborations.

The panel’s main objective was to present the “Startups Meet Pharma (SMP)” and “Startups Meet Healthcare Providers” programs; two initiatives that represent how Europe is working on fostering collaborations in the healthcare sector.

The conversation included:

  • – Moderator: Barbara Costa, Business Creation Manager for EIT Health Germany GmbH,who has led the aforementioned programs;
  • Lluc Diaz, Open Innovation Lead at Novo Nordisk, a large pharmaceutical company that has participated in SMP;
  • Konstantinos Saridakis, Founder of Collaborate Healthcare,a startup that has participated in SMP and is experienced in collaborating with pharma;
  • JeremyDähn, Chief Digital Officer & Business Unit Director Digital Business Models at Johanniter Gmbh,a hospital focused on innovation;
  • Roberto Iannone, CEO and Co-Founder of Zoundream AG, a deep learning startup utilizing AI to analyze and interpret the cries of infants;
  • Hannes Toivanen, Strategic Partnerships Lead at Takeda, a global pharma company with a renowned innovation ecosystem.

The experiences and opinions of the different participants on these types of collaborations were once again a fantastic demonstration of the importance of having representatives of all stakeholders at the discussion and decision tables.



EIT Health was born in 2015, as a “Knowledge and Innovation Community” (KIC) of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), with the goal of improving the sustainability of healthcare systems, promoting healthy living and active aging, and enhancing the overall wellbeing of people across Europe. It leverages the expertise of more than 140 leading organisations from key areas of healthcare, such as pharma, medtech, payers, ICT, diagnostics, and consumer products, as well as some of the world’s leading academic and research organisations, healthcare providers, and public administrations.

Startups Meet Pharma (SMP)

EIT Health’s Startups Meet Pharma (SMP) is a program designed to allow startups to help Europe’s pharma industry solve healthcare challenges, gaining support and contacts with key stakeholders and industry leaders. In fact, SMP is a tailored training program that offers collaboration with top experts and one-on-one access to major pharma sponsors to the best startups whose ideas match the challenges. Past sponsors include industry titans like Pfizer, Bayer, Amgen, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Beiersdorf.

Startups Meet Healthcare Providers

Startups Meet Healthcare Providers is an EIT program calling on European start-ups to develop innovative healthcare solutions to select, real-life challenges identified by healthcare providers.

The program matches the startups behind the innovative solutions with leading healthcare providers in their national healthcare systems. Startups have the chance to develop and fine-tune their solutions to best meet the challenge, receiving tailored coaching and empowering their health market knowledge.

A Promising Collaboration

Pharma companies and startups are two very different creatures, but are eager to engage with each other. On one side, pharma companies are powerful, stable, and aware now more than ever that to be at the forefront of innovation, startups are the key to doing more for their patients and taking true steps toward the increasingly imperative patient centricity. Naturally, some changes are hitting their internal organization, such as addressing the risk of their complex processes and bulky structures slowing down the innovation flow. Consequently, dedicated open innovation teams are popping up to allow for more agile collaboration with startups. On the other side, startups seem to be the opposite: small, open-minded, and solution oriented. With limited funding and capabilities, they know that being nimble is fundamental. They can build a minimally viable product (MVP) and update their products in months, not years, but they do not have the strength to go to market on their own. They are also facing many barriers (especially in regulation), even when they manage to open discussions with pharma companies. Willingness to collaborate is great, but what is often missing is the knowledge of how the journey goes from the pharma company to the patient.

Startups need to try, fail, learn, and improve continuously, building competencies over the time. Many collaborations between pharma and startups fail. Programs like “Startups Meet Pharma (SMP)” and “Startups Meet Healthcare Providers” take avoiding this outcome very seriously. Things are happening very quickly, as the current innovation momentum dictates, and ecosystem building is the primary way Europe is bridging the pharma-startup gap. Despite the contrast, pharma companies and startups both bring unique and complementary strengths.

Partnering has always been at the foundation of the health sector, but new actors have appeared on the scene and require new models of collaboration focused on co-creation and giving real value to all the parts involved. There is no one-size-fits-all solution since every company is unique, and every challenge needs to be addressed in the right way.

The serendipitous effects of mixed teams are resulting in wonderful outputs. SMP-like programs can be a game-changing opportunity to build trust and offer visibility, industry validation, and expert support.

Author: Davide Pistorio, Account Executive at Healthware International

Get a full access to all video content of the FH21 Global Conference