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Student start-ups thrive in university health incubator

Anna Vestergård Jacobsen & Peter Løvschall_NEWS

In the past year a record-breaking 23 new student teams within healtcare have begun their entrepreneurial journey in the student-start-up community SUND Hub at Copenhagen Science City-partner University of Copenhagen. The high number of founders teams is living proof, that these students do want to work entrepreneurially, and they can start successful businesses. Since the opening of SUND Hub in 2015, 143 teams have been active in the Hub. Together, active teams and x-hubsters have raised in excess of 60 million DKK in funding and investments.

More than one way to succeed

SUND Hub is one of three University of Copenhagen student-start-up communities.  Today the Hub houses 39 active teams with 116 student founders and co-founders. During 2020 alone, these very early stage start-ups managed to raise 5,7 million DKK. Innovation Consultant Anna Vestergård Jacobsen invites investors to have a look at current teams but insists that she does not measure her own success in the amount of funding raised by the start-ups in the Hub’s care.

As a university-based start-up community, our focus is on learning and development of innovative competences. Whether the start-ups becomes a business, or not, all team members learn a lot about development according to user needs, about product feasibility and about business practices. We believe that these insights will have value for themselves and future employers”: Anna Vestergård Jacobsen, Innovation Consultant, University of Copenhagen

Independence is the hardest skill

When a would-be start-up founder enters a SUND Hub programme, they learn generic start-up skills, but they also meet the many challenges specific to the healthcare sector. Entering a highly regulated market – often with fragmented target groups consisting of patients, healthcare professionals and department of acquisitions, can seem like a trip to the jungle. For some students though, the biggest challenge is the jump from student to founder, explains Innovation Consultant Peter Løvschall.

We tell them in no uncertain terms, that this is not a course. We do not hold examinations, there are no censors and there is no passing grade. In a very real sense, we do not even have teachers. The teams get access to mentors, domain experts and advisors. Whether or not they take their advice, is entirely up to them. After all. Some of the best founders have been told that their idea was impossible”. Peter Løvschall, Innovation Consultant, University of Copenhagen.

Entrepreneurship as academic discipline

Some students, however, do feel more comfortable in a structured study setting. For them, The University of Copenhagen has developed the possibility to do a so-called academic internship in a startup and the start-up could very well be their own. Here, students get an opportunity to earn study credits (ECTS points) while working on their own start-up or as an intern in someone else’s.

A community that crosses institutional borders

Each team must include a University of Copenhagen student, but the Hub has admitted students from most almost all institutions of higher learning in Greater Copenhagen, including Copenhagen Business School, Danish Technical University and the University College Copenhagen.

At SUND Hub, students meet a different reality from what they are used to in their studies. When working in a start-up, everything is operational and hands-on, and they will automatically engage with students from other programmes and other institutions who are facing many of the same challenges. We are very proud to provide the opportunity to network with likeminded students and we believe that this is one reason so many of them continue building their business after graduating”: Anna Vestergård Jacobsen, Innovation Consultant, University of Copenhagen.

A highly popular skillset in the hospital sector

Most of the business ideas that teams pursue at the Hub are within healthcare in the broadest sense. They include medical devices and software, assistive technology, public health, biotech/pharma and food and supplements. Some of the teams succeed impressively. If team-members choose to pursue careers in the public sector instead, there is absolutely a place for graduates with start-up skills in the hospital world, Says Chief Innovation Officer at the University Hospital Rigshospitalet Henning Langberg.

Successful health innovation requires people with many skills. A combination of deep knowledge in health but also insights in commercialization and entrepreneurship could really move the area of health innovation forward. If more of our staff had tried starting a business of their own, while they studied, this would really be beneficial. It would give them a commercial perspective and would urge them to develop solutions for patients and thus accelerate the development of new health care services and products. My only concern would be, that they are so successful that we might lose too many of these student-entrepreneurs to private industry. We need them at the hospitals, to make sure that new health care solutions meet patient needs”: Henning Langberg, Chief Innovation Officer, University Hospital Rigshospitalet.

Opportunities for start-up wannabees without business ideas

Two times per year, the Hub accepts new teams for their incubation programme provided in partnership with Copenhagen health Innovators. The entrance requirement is that the students have an idea for a business. Students, who approach the Hub without an idea, are encouraged to apply for the Challenge Track program and they are invited to coaching session outside the programme, to prepare for the next admission round.