The Health Capital Helsinki area offers a mixture of global healthcare corporations, an active startup community, and academic strengths.
Health Capital Helsinki (HCH) was initiated in 2015 by the City of Helsinki and the University of Helsinki. The original idea was to ensure the success of startups originating from research innovations, describes Juha Paakkola, Director of Health Capital Helsinki.
“Building a thriving ecosystem offering world-class services and support quickly became the focus. It was also obvious that this ecosystem must build international awareness and a high-value network to attract the best partners and investors,” he says.
“All ecosystems have their own history and strongholds, and in Finland, Turku (life sciences) and Oulu (mobile technology) are very good running mates.”
It was therefore also obvious for Juha and his colleagues to look for international benchmarks. “All ecosystems have their own history and strongholds, and in Finland, Turku (life sciences) and Oulu (mobile technology) are very good running mates. They both have clear focus and continuity. Copenhagen is also a good Nordic ecosystem benchmark, built on strong life science industry and traditional collaboration between industry and universities,” he says.
Outside of the Nordic region, Boston and Stanford are of course global top players in their own league, driven by top science and a very heavy investor base, Juha adds. “Recently, we visited Toronto and Minnesota for “benchlearning” and found that these are very well developed and focused ecosystems.”
Three main roles
Today, the HCH alliance includes the two largest cities in Finland (Helsinki and Espoo), one of Europe’s leading hospitals (HUS Helsinki University Hospital), two leading universities (University of Helsinki and Aalto University) as well as three Universities of Applied Sciences (Metropolia, Haaga-Helia and Laurea).
“There are many strongholds here. Artificial intelligence (AI), digital health, health data together with cancer and neurology research are clear key areas. Leading global healthcare corporations including GE Healthcare, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Siemens Healthineers Varian have their R&D units in the capital region, as well as our local Orion Pharma. In addition, we have a very active health startup community, anchored in hard science – many of the startups are university spin-offs,” says Juha.
The strongest universities and leading university hospital create the innovation base. In addition, the ecosystem is working well, i.e., private companies and public ecosystem stakeholders are very open and seeking collaboration, he adds.
HCH is playing an important role in facilitating this, and Juha describes its three main roles. “We develop and represent the ecosystem. There are several campus areas and many stakeholders in the Helsinki Metropolitan region. Building new connections and partnerships, and identifying gaps and opportunities are important. Secondly, we support innovation and growth. HCH is ensuring that health startups and research-based innovations find support and get connected with the right international partners, corporations, investors, and ecosystems, at the right time.”
The third main role is building high value international networks. “International partners (ecosystems, corporations, investors) are key for success,” says Juha.
Helsinki region flagships
One important operation in turning the region into one of Europe’s best ecosystems is the Health Incubator Helsinki (HIH), a new health startup incubator located at Meilahti in the main hospital and university campus area. The incubator program targets and helps research-based early-stage teams and startups operating in the health sector in both Finland and abroad. The program, built in collaboration with the City of Helsinki and University of Helsinki and supported by HCH, provides long-term support including tailored mentoring and advisory services, broad networking opportunities and working facilities within the Helsinki health ecosystem. HIH is now serving 29 startups.
“The program, built in collaboration with the City of Helsinki and University of Helsinki and supported by HCH, provides long-term support including tailored mentoring and advisory services, broad networking opportunities and working facilities within the Helsinki health ecosystem. HIH is now serving 29 startups.”
The national research flagship iCAN, a public-private-patient-partnership, is also based on the Meilahti medical campus. The iCAN digital precision cancer medicine platform enables the integration of cutting-edge molecular profiling information from tumors with rich longitudinal health data available in Finland. The pan-cancer research project already has ongoing studies in colorectal, gastric, pancreatic, breast, lung, ovarian, renal, prostate, bladder, melanoma and pediatric solid cancers as well as myeloid leukemias, lymphomas and multiple myeloma.
“CleverHealth Network is another important player here. It is a HUS Helsinki University Hospital’s co-development ecosystem, allowing companies to co-develop innovations with HUS clinicians using HUS data,” says Juha. “I would also like to point out the HUS hospital’s state-of-the-art data lake that is a unique innovation base.”
Health technology is one of the fastest growing high-tech export sectors in Finland, accounting already for more than half of the country’s high-tech exports. In the health space alone, there are about 400 startups, of which about 100 are located in the Helsinki Metropolitan region. The Helsinki region offers unique resources for health data research and innovation, not least due to the country’s legislation on secondary use of health and social data, including its Biobank Act, and its leadership within new technologies such as 5G, VR/XR and AI. Besides cutting-edge hi-tech and access to patient data systems, the region’s solid healthcare infrastructure also adds to the strong innovation base.
Another important flagship in the HCH region is the Metropolia Proof Health, providing companies, research institutes and public sector organizations with a modern environment, flexible processes and expertise in preclinical testing, piloting, validation and verification. The facilities also offer product development and research partnerships, as well as regulatory guidance.
International collaboration is a must
The most important event of 2022 was HIMSS22 Europe congress that took place in Helsinki in mid-June, gathering over 2,300 health tech innovators and experts from around world. The massive program was supplemented with an exhibition and an outstanding Finnish Pavilion stage program, describes Juha Paakkola.
“The key challenge is the worsening economic situation due to global factors, impacting both public and private funding. Health Capital Helsinki is on a mission to fight this with all ecosystem partners.”
In his opinion the key challenge is the worsening economic situation due to global factors, impacting both public and private funding. “Health Capital Helsinki is on a mission to fight this with all ecosystem partners. One key asset in this fight is international collaboration, so we encourage everyone to get in touch with us,” he says.
Featured photo of Helsinki: iStock