Last February, the University of Twente (UT) in Enschede launched its test environment 'TechMed Proeftuin' – the latest addition to a growing offering of facilities that stimulate medical innovation. The first teams are now testing their products in a simulated environment. StartupJuncture spoke to Remke Burie and Renske van Wijk of UT about their approach and the latest 'breakthrough' medtech developments.
Ten years ago, the University of Twente built a rather unique medical simulation centre called the Experimental Centre for Technical Medicine (ECTM). Originally, the ECTM started as a simulated hospital environment, where Technical Medicine students could get hands-on experience with medical equipment. Later, it also started to focus on researchers, who could conduct experiments in a realistic medical environment.
Recently, the ECTM began receiving a growing number of requests from companies who wanted to use its facilities or expertise. "These requests ranged from people who needed to take pictures in a medical setting, to startups who wanted to test or validate their products", explains Burie, who is the former head of the ECTM and now operations director of the European Technological Medical Centre – a UT department aimed at international cooperation. To cater to the needs of startups, the TechMed Proeftuin was realised and has to be fully operational as of September 2016. ECTM acts as its physical location, while the network of partners of the Proeftuin provides additional support for participating entrepreneurs, for example with product development.
A testing environment for Startups
The TechMed Proeftuin has two goals: First, to let starting companies use the technical medical equipment and facilities of the simulated hospital environment that the ECTM provides. And second, to help startups with a more focussed development of their products, directed at their specific target market. Burie: "Using our knowledge of the market, we want to introduce a quick-scan for startups, ultimately giving them advice on how to use their time and resources in the product development phase." Van Wijk, project coordinator of the TechMed Proeftuin, adds: "Such an advice could be, for instance, that a startup has to do additional market research, or a risk analysis." UT and its partners help startups with this if necessary.
Rockstart recently launched a Digital Health accelerator in Nijmegen, giving startups similar options to test their products. Burie thinks the TechMed Proeftuin is different however. "Rockstart is a real business accelerator. It nurtures selected startups, focussing on digital health with (mostly) the patient as consumer', he says. "We don’t offer a full accelerator program, but try to tailor our offerings to the specific needs of startups. These mostly focus on diagnosis and treatment of patients and have medical professionals as primary end-users." The TechMed Proeftuin, according to him, has the added benefit of being part of the simulated environment of the ECTM. This involves openness for experiments, access to medical equipment and secures a lack of stringent regulations or patients with priority.
Partnering up with the University of Twente in the establishment of the TechMed Proeftuin are Holland Innovative Twente (streamlining of product development), De Koningh Medical Systems (DKMS -high-tech medical equipment) and Panton (creative design studio). TechMed Proeftuin also works with the MST hospital in Enschede, the ZGT hospital in Almelo and several Medical Centers in The Netherlands. Van Wijk: "Each of the partners has its own set of skills. The University of Twente acts as a neutral knowledge centre, which has a broad network of medical partners, network organisations as well as innovative medical companies. Above all, we want to combine all those skills and prevent that startups have to go to several institutions with their questions."
The first startups
Currently two 'research teams' of the University of Twente use the TechMed Proeftuin for their startup experiments. The first team is researching a technology that uses magnetic detection of the sentinel lymph node in the battle against breast cancer. The second team is developing a so-called Spineguide, a personalized drilling template which can be used in surgery of patients with scoliosis, a severe deformation of the spine. UT offers so-called innovation vouchers to participating startups and SMEs: selected projects receive up to 10.000 euro for further research.
Twente is not new to the startup scene. The region produced successful startups like Booking.com and Takeaway.com. American early-stage investment fund Cottonwood Technology Fund recently opened its European branch-office in Enschede (read our interview with general manager Ray Quintana) UT even calls itself 'the entrepreneurial university'. "I think the University of Twente produced close to a thousand startups, who are still active", stipulates Burie. "We don’t invest money in our own startups, but we do invest in intellectual property and know-how."
Main image provided by Gijs Ouwerkerk