ForRegion: Brokering funds, talent and knowledge with real effect for health innovation

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Through ForRegion, Norway Health Tech has boosted regional innovation in a knowledge thirsty health industry – simply by connecting people and insights.

How do you spark greater innovation in a health sector that moves notoriously slowly, yet attracts plenty of capital and talent?

Well, you connect the dots. You try to set the already existing knowledge in motion – brokering conversations for R&D institutions with the companies and authorities in need of their crucial insights and talent.

That, incidentally, is what ForRegion, a regional program for research-driven innovation, does. For the past three years, Norway Health Tech has administered program resources to stakeholders in the Oslo and Akershus health field, in the form of industry-wide dialogue meetings, research funding and brokering of talent and knowledge.

“The effects attributable to this program are massive. In knowledge-intensive industries like health, it is paramount for companies and health institutions to collaborate with R&D institutions to stay innovative and on top of their field”, says Norway Health Tech CEO, Kathrine Myhre.

Results 2017-2019:

      • 17 companies received funding for R&D collaboration
      • ForRegion has directly or indirectly contributed to 82 (non-peer reviewed) publications
      • At least 116 articles or mentions in media
      • 162 reports, articles, lectures for the target groups
      • 15 patents registered

Dialogue meetings: Eye-opening insights for industry stakeholders

High-level dialogue meetings facilitated by Norway Health Tech have allowed industry stakeholders to exchange insights on policy, jumpstart initiatives and develop existing concepts into major project applications.

Last week, a dialogue meeting about IT-driven systems gathered researchers, public health officials, companies and other stakeholders to discuss the ongoing, heated development of a national patient journal system. Bendik Bygstad, Professor of Digitization and Entrepreneurship at Department for Informatics at University of Oslo, provided research on how health innovation happens:

“The health industry has a comparatively low innovation rate and many disgruntled users, while attracting massive investments,” Bygstad says.

He believes we lack a well-functioning digital eco system in which private and public entities, big and small, can innovate in a cost-efficient manner.

“A lot of smaller companies, many of them members of Norway Health Tech, find it challenging to gain market access due to a prohibitive tender system and the excluding business models of large companies”.

The dialogue meetings allowed the industry to discuss very different vantage points and adopt research that suggests gathering resources into much more accessible innovation platforms:

“Innovation rarely happens at the public health agency, does it? It happens at smaller companies and research institutions. So that’s where you need to mobilize.”

The dialogue meeting has had real effects, as health authorities have already invited some of the participating municipalities to a follow-up meeting, and the small and large industry players want to continue the discussion on how they can contribute to the development process more directly. Professor Bygstad is pleased by the outcome:

“There are indeed very few arenas where research, health authorities and private enterprise can meet. And when they do meet, everyone agrees there needs to be more of it. In the name of health innovation, such meetings are excellent”.

FORREGION has three main pillars:

      1. Broadly-based instruments to encourage wider use of research-based innovation (competence brokering, feasibility studies
      2. Knowledge-building projects, known as capacity enhancement projects, to strengthen competence building and research activity for industries in areas with specified potential or special needs
      3. Knowledge and dialogue about regional efforts related to research-based innovation.

(source: forskningsrådet.no)

Knowledge brokering: The insightful way to scale a company

Through ForRegion, Norway Health Tech has awarded up to NOK 200.000 to companies conducting or preparing early stage R&D activities, for the companies to conduct research with relevant R&D institutions.

“We fund crucial research activities and help the companies plug results into public financial support systems. There is a strong and positive correlation between companies that receive this funding and their ability to scale,” Kathrine Myhre says.

Respinor, a company developing a non-invasive, ultrasound-based medical device for diaphragm monitoring, funded research with the Intervention Centre, an R&D institution at Oslo University Hospital.

“We’ve had great effect from collaborating with the Intervention Centre on understanding and developing wireless transfer of ultrasound signals. It became clear to us how to relate to wireless technology and standards in the ongoing development of our products”, says Respinor CEO Trude Tingvoll.

The research was crucial to Respinor’s successful applications to the EU Comission’s H2020 program, in which they ranked first in both Fase 1 and 2.

“Wireless technology is still somewhat premature for use in clinical wards, but will soon be implemented given the speed of technological development.  ForRegion funding has secured us a place at the table when it does,” Tingvoll says.

“Programs like ForRegion are crucial to companies like ours, that develop novel technological solutions. It allows us to build global ambitions for technology that has already demonstrated proof of concept at home.”

Tove Cecilie Viebe, CEO of Seald, a biotech company developing personalised treatment of bile duct cancer, found the funding extremely useful:

The grant was triggering and crucial for further progression for Seald, says CEO Tove Cecilie Viebe. Here in dialogue with Waqar Ahmed (head of EU program) from Norway Health Tech.

“The grant was triggering and crucial for further progression for Seald. Clinically and commercially, we now have a REK-approved clinical trial. It is a great program”.

Increased mobility of knowledge

The ForRegion program also helps to funnel talent from an academic world with relatively few research positions to companies with an identified need for their talents, Kathrine Myhre explains:

“Our industry is growing fast at an 8-10 per cent annual growth rate. Almost one out of ten companies are startups, and they are scaling fast. They need talent and knowledge, meaning there’s a vast need for the right manpower. We broker this knowledge.”

While PhD and master’s candidates can have knowledge that are of great value for a given health innovation company, few arenas exist where this brokering can take place. After Myhre gave a lecture a few weeks ago, Norway Health Tech received several inquiries from students and companies asking for introductions.

“We sit down with each company to discuss what knowledge they need and help them locate it. We certainly feel that we have contributed to a higher degree of mobility between research and academic institutions, and the industry”, Myhre says.

ForRegion has also led to greater mobility of knowledge between all the clusters participating in the ForRegion program, leading to better cluster culture through the sharing of information and inviting each other to relevant events.

“Our colaboration with the EdTech Cluster about a potential project in Germany was particularly beneficial for us. And The Norwegian Solar Energy Cluster has been a terrific mentor for our participation at Medica 2019, Europe’s largest health tech convention”, Myhre says.

Similarly, Norway Health Tech’s extensive experience in applying for EU funding has been put to use in other clusters’ applications.

“The sharing of information and knowledge between clusters has been an important factor in developing a progressive cluster culture in our region”, Myhre concludes.

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