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The latest wave of healthcare innovation entrepreneurs has hit the streets. The seventh class of the d·HEALTH Barcelona postgraduate program in healthcare innovation had its virtual graduation yesterday, with the nine fellows presenting the projects they have developed over the past nine months to address clinical needs related directly to or accentuated by Covid-19. The panel of judges was Marcel Prunera, of Crea Inversión; Laura Rodríguez, of Invivo Capital; and Oriol Estrada, director of Innovation at the Northern Metropolitan Territorial Management of the Catalan Institute of Health.

The event also included a panel discussion on topics related to managing the impact of Covid-19 through the healthcare system. The dialog, moderated by Daniel Moreno, head of the Innovation Program at Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital, featured Dr. Antonio Roman, director of healthcare at Vall d’Hebron Hospital; Dr. Antoni Rosell, clinical director of the Thoracic Department at Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital; and Dr. Rafael Máñez, head of Intensive Medicine at Bellvitge University Hospital. 

Design Health Barcelona (d·HEALTH Barcelona) is a postgraduate program to train entrepreneurs and future leaders in healthcare innovation. It is inspired by the Stanford University biodesign methodology, which guides students through a full innovation cycle from identifying a business idea based on a clinical immersion at a leading hospital in Barcelona through designing and prototyping a viable solution and developing the business model to take it to market. The program trains mixed teams of graduates with degrees in the life sciences and healthcare, design, engineering or business. Applications are now being accepted for the upcoming program, which will begin in April 2021.


In-person and online clinical immersion

The experience of this year’s fellows was clearly marked by Covid-19. The first phase of the fellowship consisted in an eight-week clinical immersion at three hospitals in the Barcelona area: Bellvitge Hospital, Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital and Vall d’Hebron Hospital, which was interrupted by the pandemic. “Overnight, we were no longer allowed to go to the hospital,” explains Dutch industrial design engineer Yvonne Gillis. “It was frustrating, but we decided to continue online and it was the best thing we could have done. In the end, it is about reacting, adapting quickly,” she added.

From then, the three teams conducted some fifty virtual interviews with professionals at hospitals and others in the healthcare sector, such as engineers, IT experts and consultants. “We tried to put ourselves in their shoes and imagine how their jobs had been affected by Covid-19 in order to ask the right questions so we could see and feel what they saw and felt at the hospital,” explains Barcelona-born industrial engineer Sofia Ferreria.

As a result of this virtual immersion, the teams detected more than 1,000 unmet clinical needs, from which each team chose one to design the prototype of a solution and develop a business model. “Many of the needs weren’t directly related to Covid-19, but the pandemic has brought them to light,” explains Portuguese biomedical engineer Guilherme Meneses. His team worked on a solution to prevent mental health problems in postpartum women. “This problem already existed, but now mothers are more on their own. They are sent home after giving birth, have fewer appointments with the pediatrician... All of this can accentuate the risk,” he says.

Yvonne’s team developed a solution to improve early detection of strokes, which affect 15 million people a year, of which 5 million die and another 5 million are left with lifelong complications. And Sofia’s team chose a solution to reduce diaphragm dysfunction in patients who have had to be intubated in the ICU.


Skills for success

All three agree that one of the advantages of the program is the network of contacts they developed, with the other fellows as well as the program mentors. “They’ve seen how you work, your abilities... That gives you great visibility on the market,” says Sofia, who also highlighted the communication skills acquired to present ideas and projects comfortably. Yvonne added the training in creative leadership and Guilherme, in team leadership.

What message would they highlight, of everything they learned through the program? “Be open and speak with as many people as possible,” says Yvonne. “Test your project as soon as possible. Don’t wait for it to be perfect. Get it on the market and use trial and error to help you find the final solution,” adds Guilherme. 

Their options for the future are wide open now. They are considering continuing with the project they developed during the fellowship, scouting for financial support or re-thinking their future with the firm belief that healthcare innovation is the field they want to focus on. So far, the numbers are on their side: 95% of graduates from all the d·HEALTH classes have found work in the healthcare sector and 30% of graduates are heading up their own companies.

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