Germany’s Medical Valley: The Digital Health Hub Nuremberg/Erlangen

The region of Franconia may not be one of the first that spring to mind when you think about innovation in the health industry, but it should be. After all, there’s a reason that there are 850,000 medical patients in this corner of Germany.

August 2019
By Jefferson Chase

Just this April scientists at Erlangen University came up with a new technique that promises to revolutionise the detection of skin cancer – and that’s only one example of the discoveries that regularly emanate from northern Bavaria. So it’s also no accident that Erlangen and its larger sister city Nuremberg were chosen as the location for Germany’s Digital Health Hub. The initiative is part of what’s known as the Medical Valley.”

“The Medical Valley is one of the biggest medical clusters we have in Germany and includes over 500 medical-technology companies, more than 100 university and extra-university research institutions and 65 clinics,” says Head of the Digital Health Hub Anne Braun. “That means we have a great ecosystem and a great infrastructure to help companies in the digital health area get started.”

Set up in 2017 as one of twelve Digital Hubs in Germany, the initiative encompasses corporate partners that include giants like Siemens, insurer HUK-Coburg and global healthcare company Novartis. 40 tech startups are currently participating in the Hub’s activities, including five or six that are being fully incubated. Early-stage mentoring is one of the Hub’s priorities.

The main building of Germany’s Medical Valley © Medical Valley EMN e.V.

“The secret to success and innovation lies in cooperation and transfer of know-how,” says Novartis Country President and Pharma General Manager Sidonie Golombowski-Daffner. “We’re very happy to take part in the Digital Health Hub by supporting startups and creating a network between young entrepreneurs, universities and industry.”

One fledgling firm to profit is IT-Labs, a health platform whose app Alberta connects providers of home care with patients. The app facilitates patient care by tracking data on things like clients’ medications. The company also helps doctors locate care facilities with open capacities.

The young company has already attracted one million Euros in investment and its Founder Güven Karakuzu credits the Digital Hub for some welcome early media attention.

“We took part in the first Pitch Night of the Digital Hub Initiative, were mentioned a number of times in publications and were able to present ourselves at the stand of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy at the CeBit trade fair,” Karakuzu says. “We would never have been able to generate this scale of national PR on our own.”

The entrepreneur adds that IT-Labs gained valuable contacts and boosted its reputation by being part of a cluster of innovators.

The Digital Health Hub also stages an annual Digital Tech Summit, a cross between a hackathon and a tech conference in which young IT enthusiasts tackle challenges set by corporate partners. The next one is scheduled for October.

“Generally, our philosophy has been to revolutionise medicine and encourage digital innovations as well as data- and digitalisation-driven experiments,” says Golombowski-Daffner. “Taking part in the Digital Tech Summit gives us a chance to familiarise our employees with digital culture and learn new ways of working.”

Thus far the focus of the Digital Health Hub has been regional and national. But that, says Anne Braun, will soon be different.

“Next year that should change,” Braun explains. “We already have several international startups located here, although not necessarily from the health sector. And foreign companies will be increasingly in focus as of 2020.”

So foreign HealthTech startups looking for a friendly ecosystem should remember that the Nuremberg/Erlangen area might be just what the doctor ordered.