Article on: Alumni Summit 2019

Dec 11, 2019

Advent has begun; Christmas is just around the corner, and what better way to kick off this festive season than with the annual EIT Health Alumni Summit, held in Paris on December 1st.

The summit didn’t just mark the opening of the first door on your advent calendar, but also opened the door into the more personal side of entrepreneurship. This year’s theme of ‘Startup life on the inside’ gave prevalence to an aspect of the start-up world that is often overlooked, dwarfed by investment numbers, prizes and pitch trainings.

Good mental health and well-being is key to personal happiness and professional success, hence its inclusion in the UN SDGs. However, all too often one’s well-being is ignored, as entrepreneurs pour their heart and soul into their innovations, often at the expense of their own health. 

This is an area where the EIT Health Alumni Network can display its value. Yes, we are a group of innovators, entrepreneurs, and CEOs, shaping healthcare innovation in Europe, but we are also a community, and there lies our core strength. Together we can support each other, together we can guide each other, and together we can work on the improvement of our own well being, and, ultimately, the well being of European citizens. 

“The EIT Health Alumni Meeting was like a dear high-school reunion. Although we do not all meet on a regular basis, the Network is like a family and is the pure proof that remote, multidisciplinary, multicultural teams work and they are able to achieve higher goals.”
Anca Sarbu, EIT Health Alumni Representative for Austria

To leverage this community spirit, we developed the skeleton of our Summit agenda around an innovation of our own: ‘croissant pitches’. These were two interactive workshops, in which entrepreneurs – Flavia, the CEO and founder of Ibreve, and, Eszter, CEO and founder of Yoganotch, pulled back the curtain on their own startups, revealing challenges they face in their day-to-day lives. Participants were then tasked to work together and brainstorm around how best to overcome these challenges.  

But, perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves. Much like in the start-up world it is always important to pause, take a break and re-evaluate our surroundings. And here lies the second focal point of our Summit – Community building, planning, road-mapping, and, importantly, evaluation: Who are we? What will we become? And how do we get there?

In this spirit, our wonderful moderator, Leonhard Nima (not the actor who played Spok in Star Trek - I know you were  thinking it), kicked off the day by setting the scene of the event and welcoming over 50 active alumni members. Leonhard then gave the stage to two staff members of EIT Health, Miriam Irle, our dedicated Network Manager, and Sabine Schumann, the head of Communications.

Miriam presented a quick overview of our Community, introducing our Board, highlighting how much we have grown in the past year, and listing the impressive figures we can boast when it comes to growth, events, and partnerships with stakeholders. We have rapidly grown to a community of over 1500 members, and in 2019, have held no less than 24 unique events across Europe. These are numbers that couldn’t be reached without having such an engaged and enthusiastic community as ours. 

To quickly highlight two such examples of partnerships this year; our collaborations with Tech Open Air Berlin and the EU supported Marie-Curie Alumni Association both strengthened our outreach and collaboration with external stakeholders in the area of research and innovation.

Next to take the stage was Maria Sievert, our inspirational keynote speaker, and founder of Inveox. Inveox GmbH, founded in 2017, develops systems to digitize, automate and connect pathology laboratories. As a result, the risk of operational irregularities and potential misdiagnoses are significantly reduced and patient safety – especially in cancer diagnostics – is greatly improved.

“Purpose and passion is key”

Maria discussed her own start-up story, and highlighted a concept that was prevalent throughout the EIT Health Alumni Summit; that ‘purpose and passion is key to success’. Her story was clearly a hit with our audience, who took advantage of the opportunity with myriad different questions echoing around the room. 

Following a short caffeine fueled intermission, our party reconvened in the main hall for a presentation from our representative from the EIT – Manuel Irun Molina. Manuel reminded participants that they are also part of a wider EIT Community that not only spans borders, but also sectors, and disciplines. Of his five key takeaways, perhaps the one that Manuel stressed the most is how valuable an Alumni Network such as ours is to the EIT.  The passion that is present at events is a key driver of innovation across the whole Community. 

With participants freshly topped up with inspiration, (and coffee…. We always need coffee) it was now time to dive into our first hands-on workshop of the day – ’EIT Heath Alumni Network Road-mapping 2020 – 2022’.

A novel feature of our Community in 2019 has been the setup of a Network of Local Representatives; a diverse group of our best and brightest who have volunteered to represent the EIT Health Alumni Network in their cities and regions across Europe. 

This new network is already starting to bear fruit. The following three events were fully organized by Local Representatives under the guidance of the Regional Alumni Board Coordinators:

  • A Glass of Opportunities: EIT Health Alumni Lisbon. Websummit, 7 Nov 2019.
  • Moving cleverly, moving further: EIT Health Alumni Spain. Barcelona, 29 Nov 2019.
  • Rise up, Coimbra: EIT Health Alumni Coimbra, 7 Dec 2019.

The first meeting of these Local Representatives took place in Budapest this October, and the outcomes served as inspiration for our first workshop of the Summit. Before diving into the brainstorming, three members of the EIT Health Alumni Board gave a short overview of what was discussed in October and what we have started to implement since then. 

New projects include: 

  1. Expanding the Alumni Ambassador Programme to also include Innovation Days and start-up boot camps.
  2. Aligning with the EIT Health Mentoring and Coaching Network to create exclusive opportunities for alumni.
  3. Collaborations with the Women@EIT network, and more events focused on female leadership. 
  4. Giving greater focus to sustainability in our community, through online events, collaborations with EIT Climate-KIC Alumni, and sustainable promotional materials.

The response from participants during this session was excellent; so many unique and innovative activities were put forward that will really boost the development of our Community over the next three years. Our task now is to carefully consider these proposals, and begin to develop them into our own flagship programmes. Designed by alumni, for alumni. 

„I liked very much the idea of implementing a “shadowing” program. It would allow the participant Alumni to get a real insight on specific topics. And it’s given me some new ideas to implement in a program about empowering women.“ 
Audry Kaune, COO, Surge On Medical

As the last of these new ideas was pitched to the audience, and the smell of freshly baked croissants slowly drifted across the room, it wasn’t hard to guess what came next… It was time to dive into the first of our ‘croissant pitches’!  

Eszter was our first ‘Croissanteur’. She is the CEO and Founder of Yoganotch, a unique company offering a wearable yoga trainer that scans your stance in a 3D space and guides you through an interactive yoga session. – An ideal addition to any work-life balance. 

Eszter’s challenge was one that may well be common for many start-ups forging their own path in this globalised world – that of a decentralized workforce. Eszter works in Budapest, makes her products in China, and has customers in the USA. Three continents, three unique cultures, but, perhaps most importantly, three vastly different time zones!
Over a one-hour session, Eszter tasked participants to solve the following challenge: ‘How can we motivate decentralized teams?’

As is to be expected from our network, responses were diverse, caring, and innovative. The most prevalent answer however, was to create a shared culture across the workplace, through means such as, sharing national local holidays, bonding over shared interests, finding people’s preferred contact hours, and ensuring everyone can enjoy the successes of the company, no matter where they are. 

The second ‘Croissanteur’ of the afternoon was Flavia, the CEO and Co-founder of Ibreve. Ibreve have created a wearable that improves stress resilience by analyzing breathing activities and stress levels. 

Flavia’s challenge looked at the psychological impacts of entrepreneurship, and tasked participants to discuss their different coping strategies. Once again the responses were unique and diverse. Ranging from the quite outlandish, but nevertheless, innovative, suggestions of shooting ranges and office zoos, to the more down to earth ideas revolving around green workspaces, time management techniques, and comfortable office spaces with places for naps and relaxation.

„The EIT Health Alumni Summit has been a great opportunity to connect with fellow entrepreneurs, share best practices & learn about new cross-country collaborative opportunities within EIT Health."
Flavia Wahl, CEO of Ibreve

To close the event, Miriam and Leonhard took to the stage once more to recap all that has been discussed, and to look to the future, discussing how best we can implement all these new ideas into our network. 

Despite only being our second annual summit, the passion that was displayed during the day, along with the professional diversity of our participants – CEOs, entrepreneurs, PhD students, and academics - really exemplifies just how much our network has developed in the past three years. 

We are proud to have almost 1600 members, over 30 local representatives across nearly every EU Member State, 24 local events in 2019 alone, and a plethora of new ideas and programmes in the making. 

This event is not just a testament to how far our network has come, but it also shines a light on where we will go, as we continue to strive forward in the same way we always have: by alumni, for alumni


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