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Danish health research is world-class. But not enough of it is translated into entrepreneurship and startups, according to BioInnovation Institute, which works to mature life science and health tech start-ups and promote the Danish ecosystem.

Sponsored: This article is published in collaboration with BioInnovation Institute.

Denmark is a world leader in many areas of healthcare: life science, medicine and biotechnology. Here, large Danish companies set the direction for the rest of the world.

But in health tech, we are lagging behind the countries we normally compare ourselves with. Several studies show that we hatch too few startups compared to the scientific level of Danish health research. But we can change that if we create the right culture, says Jens Nielsen, researcher, professor and CEO of the BioInnovation Institute.

“We are here to change that. We believe that we need to educate the next generation of entrepreneurs in the health sector – including health tech. Because even though Denmark has a good ecosystem for start-ups, too little research is currently being translated into solutions that benefit patients and society,” he explains.

In 2018, the Novo Nordisk Foundation established the BioInnovation Institute (BII) and in 2021 BII became an independent commercial foundation with commitments of up to DKK 3.5 billion over 10 years. The mission is to develop a world-class Danish health tech and life science ecosystem and catalyse the commercialisation of new solutions through startups and spinouts.

BioInnovation Institute

  • 75% of start-ups in BII are first-time founders
  • 80 startups supported in total
  • 71 million euros in aid granted to companies by BII
  • 382 Million euros raised by BII companies

Maturing for the market

BII offers a 12-month incubator and accelerator programme that helps researchers, early-stage start-ups and established companies to mature their product and idea, develop a business plan, establish networks and raise capital.

“Innovation is strongest when it is demand-driven. That’s why for many health tech entrepreneurs, it’s important to understand the market mechanisms early on in the process. There can be a lot of good ideas that make life easier for people, but if you want it to actually become a business and a product that makes a difference, you have to work with the barriers that exist in the market,” says Jens Nielsen.

In particular, the commercial sparring has been vital for the start-up Ampa, which is behind a new innovative solution for people living with an ileostomy. The company’s founders Marie Filippson Parslov and Cecilie Ammitzbøll both come from the healthcare sector and have benefited from BII’s programme for start-ups

“At BII, the financial support comes with training in business development, personalised sparring and access to a large network, a combination that has worked really well for us. As healthcare professionals, we have a deep knowledge of the problem we want to solve, but we have no experience with business models, IP or regulatory strategies. We have gained this in a relatively short time and have so far been successful in developing Ampa – it has been a steep but fantastic learning curve,” the two entrepreneurs explain.

With a fantastic pitch in Pumpehuset Ampa Medical won BIIs Demo Day 2022

Role models create culture

To encourage more researchers to turn their research into entrepreneurship, the BioInnovation Institute (BII) organises an annual award to recognise researchers working at the intersection of life sciences and entrepreneurship. The academic world plays a major role in the health of the ecosystem.

“What you often see in such successful ecosystems is that it starts with role models, which creates more role models and so on. In these places, it has become part of the culture that universities naturally also incubate companies and researchers become entrepreneurs. We would like to strengthen this approach in Denmark,” Nielsen explains.

The development is slowly under way. Entrepreneurship has been a focus area at universities for several years now, while the major Danish hospitals have embedded innovation centres in their daily workflow. All in all, it paints a positive picture, says Jens Nielsen.

“We have a huge potential in Denmark and I believe Copenhagen will be an epicentre for health tech startups in the future. We have all the competences and ingredients: top-class international research, a world-leading healthcare system and a tradition of healthcare industry. If we can capitalise on this, we can become a European beacon in this field.”