Startups like Vitameter, Serona and Viomedo stand for innovative digital solutions in the medical industry. Not left to their own devices, their endeavors are supported by big companies.
There's not much sunlight in this basement in a house near Berlin's bustling Müllerstraße. But the dreary view doesn't bother Alexander Puschilov. The 27-year-old health economist wants to revolutionize the market for clinical studies.
Together with his business partners Tim Seithe and Stefan Nietert he founded a startup called Viomedo. One of his colleagues is a 24-year-old physician, the other a 32-year-old software engineer.
"The biggest problem in clinical research is finding enough participants," Puschilov explains. "That's why studies often last a lot longer than necessary. In principle, there would be enough patients around willing to participate, but they're just not aware of the studies in question."
Germany is the second largest market for clinical studies worldwide. Globally, there's a need for roughly 1 million participants annually. And this is where Viomedo comes in. It's developing a digital platform where patients can inform themselves about current studies and signal their interest in taking part.
People know very little about current studies," says Günter Kranz, a spokesman for Bundesverband Selbsthilfe Lungenkrebs, a federal self-help association for people suffering from lung cancer.
"Fifty-thousand people in Germany contract lung cancer every year," Kranz says. "Many look for alternative treatment."
That's why it makes sense to create a platform, which brings together the demand and supply sides of the matter. Kranz's organization has already met with the Viomedo folks a couple of times with a view to making the platform better known.
Learning from the big ones
Viomedo's idea has also gone down well with German pharmaceutical giant Bayer, which selected the company for its "Accelerator 2015" program out of a pool of 200 applicants from all over the world.
"Accelarator 2015" winners were from Canada, Estonia, the US and other nations and were invited to Berlin for 100 days where they had office rooms at their disposal and access to crucial Bayer facilities, including controlling and research units.
Puschilov said he was thrilled about the help he and his colleagues received from Bayer, where they learned a lot about market mechanisms and corporate positioning. He also mentioned direct talks with top managers, who shared their experience with them.
Roughly 5,000 people work at Bayer's facility in Berlin, 2,000 of them in research. Young entrepreneurs greatly benefit from their know-how, but the relationship is not a one-way street.
Bayer Healthcare's Christian Ullrich says "we want to bring in innovation from outside." Each startup gets a one-time payment of 50,000 euros ($53,000) and is able to use all existing infrastructure. The colorful rooms of the "Accelerator" are therefore an integral part of Bayer's location.
"It's not so much about financial aid, it's more about fostering inspiring innovation," he said with a wink. It's obvious that he likes his encounters with the young entrepreneurs.
Taking the Vitameter back to Canada
The Canadian participants in the Bayer program are feeling a bit blue. In a few days from now, they'll have to return home. They've greatly enjoyed their time in Berlin where they worked on fine-tuning their "Vitameter," a device capable of precisely measuring vitamins in the body. They expect it to hit the market soon for 100 Canadian dollars ($74.60 euros).
The Canadians have learned a lot about Berlin's history and culture. "Berlin is cool," agreed the co-founders of the Vitameter startup, Robert Green and James MacLean, who admitted, though, that it took them time getting used to the rather limited living space they had in Berlin in a tiny apartment in the city's Wedding district.
"In our family home in Canada, we have six bathrooms, five bedrooms and two hectares of land around it; and that's quite normal for Canada," Green said with some amusement.
No matter what, Berlin may have helped their startup to a breakthrough as international investors have already signaled their interest.