Developing healthcare through cooperation and innovation – Terkko Health Hub shows the way forward
Terkko Health Hub, which marks its third anniversary this autumn, has been engaged from the outset in promoting a new form of collaboration between research, enterprise and healthcare in the field of health and life sciences. This centre for start-ups is a joint project of the University of Helsinki and HUS Helsinki University Hospital. It shows the value of a collaborative culture for creating socially significant innovations.
When a healthcare research team or business comes up with an idea, a long path lies ahead. The route to adoption of a healthcare product is expensive, tightly regulated and has very many stages. Before it can be accepted for public use, it must undergo extensive studies in its operating environment to guarantee safety. Its financiers must be patient; they will generally have to wait for quite a while for a return on their investment.
At the same time, there is a significant need for new innovations in healthcare. New equipment can free up the skills of nursing staff for work that machines cannot perform, such as the humane encountering of patients and finding creative solutions. Patient safety can also improve as new, properly studied and tested equipment comes into the market.
Technology Officer Pekka Kahri, responsible for public-private coordination at HUS Helsinki University Hospital, sees major potential in collaboration.
“We seek to work with all the most promising health technology start-ups that offer interesting solutions for relevant problems of patient care or clinical needs. Collaboration is founded on a clinical pilot study, in which the hospital units interested and the specialists concerned play a key role.”
The key to creating health and life science innovations is to get representatives of the different fields around the same table. Terkko Health Hub has been operating in the modernized Meilahti Campus Library building since autumn 2017. It combines three worlds that are traditionally separate from one another – business, healthcare and research. Today the health and life science hub leases rooms and desks to 45 companies and also supports their growth by arranging training, events and mentored networking opportunities. It is a place where 200 events of every sort take place each year. In autumn 2020, Terkko Health Hub’s operations were complemented by Health Incubator Helsinki, a unique three-year incubator program for research-driven teams and start-ups in the health and life science sectors. The program is a joint project of the City of Helsinki and the University of Helsinki. It aims to transform health innovation, research findings and skills into commercial products and international business.
Terkko Health Hub offers comprehensive assistance and consultation for companies at various stages. Initial support for entrepreneurs is aimed at taking their ideas forward, while more advanced businesses are helped in reaching international markets. The Terkko Health X accelerator program, being arranged for the second time this autumn, provides mentoring to researchers and early-stage start-ups in developing business skills and acquiring contacts. The hub’s flagship event series Health Talks deals with topical subjects in the field from the viewpoint of enterprise and innovation. It’s organized together with the partners from Helsinki, Espoo, Oulu and Kuopio. Next year it aims to engage health actors from all major cities of Finland under one umbrella.
Terkko Health Hub also brings corporate partners into the community. The agile and innovative work style of start-ups coupled with the structured and professional attitude of corporates creates a perfect collaboration benefiting both parties.
A collaborative culture also broadens career possibilities. For example, the future professional identity of medical students need not be restricted tightly to work in the field. There are other job opportunities available, such as in development, consulting and specialist functions.
“We can expect the job of a physician and the scope of healthcare to change a lot in the future,” says Professor Risto Renkonen, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Helsinki. “Innovations that improve work efficiency and care effectiveness are crucially significant for ensuring service capacity and the best care of patients. These will require close cooperation between innovation activities and medical research.”
One outcome of collaboration in Terkko Health Hub is recruitment by start-ups. Some of the companies have found new employees from the campus, among the medical students of the University of Helsinki. The future will be shaped by combining different fields of expertise and sharing information, says Professor Olli Silvennoinen, director of the Helsinki Institute of Life Science HiLIFE.
“It is the positive duty of every researcher to utilise research findings,” he believes. “The path from a laboratory result to a product or information that benefits patients and society demands special high-quality expertise. The systematic development of these operations is vitally important now and will be in the future.