When I offered to co-curate the Cambridge One Health Tech hub last summer, little did I know that within the year I would be representing OHT internationally, by accepting an invitation from the UK embassy in Portugal to speak about creating an innovation ecosystem at a Healthy Ageing UK Portugal Forum in Lisbon, followed by a visit to the University of Coimbra, a very old university now with an innovation and R&D focus.
Maxine set me the challenge of inspiring the creation of OHT Lisbon, and I set out to do her and the OHT community proud.
Needless to say I learnt a lot - about the health challenges Portugal faces, their approach to innovation and that the UK and Portugal have one of the longest trading relationships in the Western world (dating back to 1300s) - and left inspired.
Portugal is one of the most rapidly ageing countries globally - not only facing longer life expectancies and low birth rate, but also challenged by out-migration of working age adults. However a large percentage of the older Portuguese population have long-term conditions, and so the healthy ageing challenge is to add life to years, rather than years to life. Does this feel familiar?
The challenges to creating an innovation ecosystem also felt familiar ... working out the balance between using tech and changing cultures (our consensus was you need both, and bucket loads of the latter); getting the data (we’re lucky in Cambridge to have a Biobank, something which the Portuguese researchers were quite envious of); scanning for already proven innovations; spreading solutions, especially where health research ecosystems are academically competitive; commercialisation; and nurturing diverse views and leaders.
While in many respects we in the UK have the key ingredients to make us global leaders in health innovation, I left Portugal inspired by the people I met and in particular their...
• Commitment to diverse leadership - the Coimbra University Vice-Rector was passionate about promoting diversity, and the university has made significant progress in promoting female participation in STEM subjects, including many initiatives with local schools. I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm for setting up a OHT hub in Portugal.
• Investment into scaling innovation systematically - the conscious co-location and coordination of R&D, incubation and acceleration, together with hands-on training on things like IP & business planning.
• Equal emphasis on empowering communities to live healthily, actively and independently; ensuring (social) care is sustainable; and that tech has real practical applications to benefit patients or staff - for example an inner sole with advanced sensors for foot ulcers (a common complication of diabetes).
Finally, fortuitously, I met the truly inspirational Nuno Almeida, a Portuguese founder of Nourish Care, a UK health tech company supporting home carers and nursing teams to deliver high quality care with digital tools for care planning and record-keeping.
For those of you coming to the next Cambridge OHT event, Data Saves Lives, on 10 March - you’ll also be lucky enough to get to hear Nuno’s story ...
PS if anyone else what’s to help explore getting OHT Portugal off the ground please do get in touch!
Co-Curator - OHT Cambridge
Director of Digital & Innovation - Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT)