Does Europe have a proper start-up culture? Are we doing enough for young professionals? According to Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission, in her article for the World Economic Forum, we could do more to make Europe fertile ground for start-ups, and engage the youngest generation entering the workforce. As a young professional in Brussels well-acquainted with millennial woes, I was eminently interested in the views of an established and influential official at the European Union.
Kroes believes giving start-ups the freedom to innovate also means more opportunities for young people. Overwhelmingly optimistic, constantly online and confident that technology increases opportunity, Generation Y is the latest to enter the workforce, and it has a lot to contribute in a vibrant start-up culture.
And yet, with so much going for start-ups, Kroes argues Europe isn’t doing enough for them – or for young professionals, as a result. Youth employment is at 50% in some countries in the EU.
What does that mean for the medtech sector? It is the most innovative in Europe, with the highest rate of new patents – one is filed in every 50 minutes. Not coincidentally, about 95% of companies are SMEs. The collaboration between academics, medical professionals and SMEs in small research projects is what drives innovation in medical technology in Europe. It is, arguably, Europe’s most vibrant start-up scene, even if we often deal with very specific innovations, such as biliary stone extractors – tools used to remove gallbladder stones located in the bile duct.
As trends such as telemonitoring, higher health literacy and patient empowerment emerge, we are reaching a turning point in healthcare, and we need to seize the moment. People are looking for ways to take their health into their own hands – or in their own pocket. As this trend intersects with a growing digital economy, health apps are now becoming increasingly ubiquitous. To be sure, it is a nascent field, and most apps still leave a lot to be desired. But healthcare start-up incubators like the American Rock Health show that there is a lot of potential in apps for diagnostics, Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and tools for citizens with disabilities. The Swedish Viary and Mindfulness apps have shown promising results in the treatment of depression.
If we are to include a tech-savvy, confident youth in Europe’s healthy future, we need to think small, and think smart. With an ageing population and strained resources, the solution lies in healthcare that’s personal, portable, and practical. There is no shortage of ideas, and no shortage of willpower among the younger population to make these solutions happen. There is certainly no shortage of demand for them, either – sailor Bastian Hauck, speaker at the 2012 Medtech Forum, has diabetes, and would love to be able to reduce the gear he uses manage his condition to only an iPhone.
Parliament recently voted to overhaul the European medical devices and IVD directive, fine-tuning the initial ENVI proposal to ensure that the regulatory burden on SMEs would be minimised. As far as ensuring a safe regulatory environment for SMEs are concerned, it was a close call. Luckily, as the proposals are evolving, we are moving away from bureaucracy, while strengthening the safety of regulations for medical devices.
Europeans should embrace the disruptive ways of youth, and of start-ups, too. We young Europeans have quite a well-rounded approach to new technologies, as we grew up with many of them. Thankfully, Europe already has a long and remarkable tradition for innovation in Europe’s medtech sector. Let’s not just keep the positive momentum at the regulatory level, but also ensure that Europe maintains its pioneering innovations as healthcare goes digital – and more personal – too.
Betina Kiefer Alonso
EDMA Communications Trainee