Open any report on the current state of Europe's or the US' early-stage venture capital market and you'll come across some variant of “falling behind 2021 numbers, successive quarterly declines, but still above historical averages”.
Capital is available and, admittedly, early-stage companies are faring better than late-stage ones at securing it. But this is of little consolation to the ever-rising number of startup founders living through a rapidly shifting landscape, where competition for funding grows fiercer by the day.
Arriving at the perfect time is EIT Health's new programme 'Attract to Invest' which aims to prepare promising, early-stage healthtech startups from the CEE and Southern European regions for successful investment rounds.
Tech.eu had the opportunity to visit the inaugural edition of the fundraising bootcamp in Vienna, where we spoke to organizers, mentors, and startups about the programme and their goals.
An investment-focused programme to round out EIT Health's comprehensive offering
'Attract to Invest' is the latest in a series of EIT Health support programmes that now span the entire startup journey – from ideation to global expansion – all contributing to the organization's overarching mission to strengthen healthcare systems in Europe, promote better health of citizens, and contribute to a sustainable health economy in Europe.
The brand new programme, targeted at early-stage startups eyeing seed or series A investment, offers intensive training that consists of two core modules: a fundraising bootcamp and board meeting simulation sprints.
Qualifying startups are granted €20,000 in funding to be used for mentoring, project planning, and travel costs, as well as benefit from access to EIT Health's extensive network of 150+ corporate, industry, and academic partners. This year's Attract to Invest teams will also enjoy a separate session at the InnoStars Awards in November where they'll get to put their learnings to use by pitching in front of an audience of potential investors and partners.
Attract to Invest falls under EIT Health's flagship InnoStars programme and includes regions from the EIT Regional Innovation Scheme, which serve to scout and scale the most promising innovations stemming from the often-underestimated CEE and Southern Europe regions. This year's edition welcomed participants from Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, and Turkey.
Additionally, to qualify, applicants were required to have a prototype, MVP, or final product available for customers in at least one EU market. They must also already be generating some revenue.
Despite being a brand new programme, the 15 available places were hotly contested with over 70 applicants vying for a spot. Those meeting the eligibility criteria were ranked by a network of external evaluators according to team, traction, and investment potential, among other factors.
A sneak peek inside the Attract to Invest fundraising bootcamp
If we had to describe the selected participants in one word it would be 'diverse'. The bootcamp saw 15 teams from 9 countries at varying (early-)stages of growth representing the entire healthtech spectrum gather in Vienna to accomplish a shared goal – to become successful fundraisers.
From a fashion-oriented healthtech, Our Pocket Hero, designing insulin pump-carrying clothes for children with type 1 diabetes to Clover Biosoft: Fair MS who are developing AI-based in-vitro diagnostic algorithms to identify antimicrobial resistance mechanisms – everyone worked shoulder-to-shoulder, learning the tips, tricks, and tools of navigating the investment landscape. Some at the beginning of their investment journey, and others looking to round out multi-million euro series A financing.
As if by design, this diversity makes for uniquely valuable experience-sharing.
“It's great to hear the stories of other startups – everyone's bringing something to the table. Connecting in person, sharing knowledge, and working together is extremely valuable,” shares Nika Pintar, CEO and co-founder of Ani Biome, an age-tech startup personalising metabolites of fermentation for one's gut health to lower inflammation and increase healthspan.
Despite their differences, the participants quickly learned that when securing early-stage investment, the best practices are rather uniform and all the teams are generally in the same boat, regardless of maturity or vertical.
Steered by the experienced Fundraising Bootcamp team, the bootcamp is very intensive, comprehensive, and action-packed. Its curriculum includes a unique combination of knowledge topics and activities ranging from understanding the raison d'être and inner workings of VC funds, the rogue term sheet clauses founders must avoid, to tools and techniques to find and hook perfectly-matched investors, pitch analysis, reset and practice. Each topic was accompanied by an afternoon of practical work with the aim of enhancing participant know-how and key documentation.
“Credibility is one of the elements that sets Attract to Invest apart from other accelerators,” says Tamás Békási, Business Creation Lead at EIT Health InnoStars. “The mentoring team have done it all, with $1 billion raised between them and they're still in the thick of it raising, teaching, and working with some of the world's leading tech companies and VC funds.”
The other advantage, according to Tamás, is that the programme makes startups face reality; it doesn't aim to protect them, boost their confidence, or otherwise pour honey in their ears. Instead, the programme aims to put startups in the best position to secure investment and manage the turbulence that inevitably follows.
“Hype over substance hurts investors and startups alike,” concurs serial tech entrepreneur, investor, and Attract to Invest mentor Francois Mazoudier. “The reality is that raising is tedious, repetitive, very stressful, and requires a lot of hard work. Zero glitz and glamour, unlike what the media would have you believe, and you only get ONE shot at it, so you'd be better at your best on the day.”
Indeed, a recurring theme was that of a reality check. How VCs make money, how long it takes on average to raise funds, how widespread underhanded term sheet tactics are, how little time investors spend reviewing pitch decks (as it stands, 2 minutes, 24 seconds) – the realities of fundraising came as a shock to the participants. For some more than others, but everyone learned something new.
Yet, this is precisely where the value lies for the startups, highlights Javier Milagro, COO at Corify Care, where they're building a solution for non-invasive electrocardiographic imaging to improve the lives of those suffering from cardiac arrhythmia. “We're all scientifically minded, so getting into the mind of the investor and understanding how VCs work is very valuable at this early stage,” explains Javier.
Going forward, learning the ins and outs of navigating the investment landscape will only grow in importance.
Regardless of what trajectory the market takes, programmes such as Attract to Invest are likely to give startups an edge amidst ever-fiercer competition. “Because,” as Fundraising Bootcamp co-founder and Attract to Invest mentor Marcela Donatello puts it, “investors have slowed down yet founders don't have more time or cash to wait . There's simply just less room for mistakes now”.
Though the bootcamp has concluded, Attract to Invest continues full-speed ahead, as the startups begin their board meeting simulations and individual mentoring sprints that will run throughout November and December. The InnoStars Awards are also on the horizon, where the teams will put their new-found knowledge and freshly-reworked pitches to the test.
Attract to Invest is set to return next year, and welcome a new batch of high-potential healthtechs. If you're an interested early-stage startup that meets – or is about to meet – A2I's requirements, keep an eye out for the next call for applications by following EIT Health InnoStars on social media.