Rise to success: 8 skills that are essential if you are an innovator

If you have created an excellent product or service, take a deep breath and keep going, because you are only halfway to success. In order to lead a thriving and profitable company there are some essential skills that entrepreneurs should have. In a two-part series we will guide you through them.

According to the experts and partners of EIT Health InnoStars, the 8 most important skills are:

·        Entrepreneurial mindset

·        Ability to apply new technologies

·        Digital and data skills

·        Communication skills

·        Network entrepreneurship

·        Critical thinking and problem solving

·        Familiarity with Health Technology Assessment

·        Knowledge about Intellectual Property


There is a well-known saying that entrepreneurs are not born, they are driven to become ones. To reach this goal, one of the most important thing is to acquire the so-called “disciplined entrepreneurial mindset” and have a working knowledge of it. As Bill Aulet, the Managing Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship puts it in his book, Disciplined Entrepreneurship, it is extremely valuable to be disciplined and to have a framework to attack problems in a systematic manner. “You already have enough risk with factors that are beyond your control”, so to be disciplined and have a clear framework “helps you succeed by reducing your risk in factors that you can have control over. The process can help you succeed, or it can help you fail faster if failure was inevitable for the path you were on.” The entrepreneurial mindset is a way of thinking that enables someone to overcome challenges, be decisive and accept responsibility for the outcomes of a decision. It is about making mistakes and trying again. As an entrepreneur you will meet obstacles and declines in your way but the right mindset can help you overcome everyday challenges and experience growth.  

“Starship was an incredible experience. On a journey to solve unmet clinical needs, it boosted my entrepreneurial mindset as well as critical thinking and problem-solving. By being in an experience with several different entities involved, it was constantly increasing our entrepreneurial network all over Europe. There is no doubt that Starship allowed me to develop crucial skills as an innovator.” – said Célia Cruz, Founder and Regulatory Lead of Complear, Alumni from EIT Health StarShip, 2017

EIT Jumpstarter is a pre-accelerator programme that is determined to help young entrepreneurs from the emerging part of Europe to acquire this mindset. Countries in these regions often face similar challenges: they have enormous innovation potential with bright scientific minds, but the research results are likely to remain within the labs. The aim of the EIT Jumpstarter programme – which is open every year for students, PhDs, researchers or entrepreneurs – is to help the start-ups overcome these challenges and connect the innovative solutions with the articulated demands from the industry. During the program EIT provides them with business training, mentoring, and connects them with potential customers in order to validate their solutions. As the early stage in a life of a start-up is very risky and inventors can fail many times, in the EIT Jumpstarter programme the experts would like to help the teams to bridge the so-called “valley of death”.

“The journey of an innovator is filled with challenges so those who chose this path have to be disciplined and resilient. We are happy to share our knowledge, human capital and resources with innovators during their journey. Our experience with market-leading industry practices give entrepreneurs we work with through EIT Health a comprehensive exposure to the innovative thinking in corporate environments, market intelligence and state-of-the-art technology development”” – said Attila Ferik, Senior Director, Software engineering at GE Healthcare, partner of EIT Health.

"Innovators shall be ready withs skills that allow them to go from identifying a need, to foresee and prepare for a roadmap of innovation development till reaching the market and citizens. This requires innovators to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset where they need to jump into the unknown in each step and build their skills along the way. At the University of Coimbra, we work with EIT Health to offer entrepreneurship education that goes from needs-based innovation, where we launched Starship, or building entrepreneurial skills and mindset on future researches, with the only EIT labelled PhD course from EIT Health." – said Jorge Figueira, R&D International Networks Coordinator at University of Coimbra.

The ability to learn new technologies is also of utmost importance. New technologies and new processes will help you and your company evolve. Fortunately, young innovators are open to apply new solutions, according to the statistics of EIT Health RIS Innovation Call. The aim of the competition is to support healthcare innovations that are developed by research teams located in more progressing regions of Central, Eastern and Southern Europe. While in 2019 third of the granted innovations fell into the “New solution” category, in 2020 this number rose to 50% and this trend shows that young talents are eager to find new ways and new technologies to solve a problem or fill a market gap.

Digital and data skills are parts of the new technologies that an innovator has to be familiar with. According to the European Skill Agenda, at least 85% of jobs require some level of digital ability, while only 56% of adults had at least basic digital skills in 2019. Between 2005 and 2016, 40% of new jobs were in digitally-intensive sectors. So the need to improve and adapt these skills is great – and of course it is even more true for entrepreneurs. Because data is not just for the analytics team anymore.

Digital skills and keeping up with the new solutions include the application of AI. In EIT Health and McKinsey & Company’s report “Transforming healthcare with AI”[1] experts states that basic digital skills, data science, and the fundamental of data analysis will be critical as AI and machine learning (ML) penetrates healthcare services (The report was published by EIT Health’s thought leadership forum, Think Tank, which brings healthcare leaders together to prepare the ground for life-changing innovation and identify the next opportunity for a step-change in how healthcare is delivered.). As Richard Zsámboki, Data Scientist at GE Healthcare emphasised during the re-launch of EIT Health’s 'Rise to the challenge!' event series, even doctors will soon have to use AI algorithms in their work. It doesn’t mean innovators need to be data scientists but “some new skills have to be picked up”. So knowing at least one programming language in data analytics for ML/AI can be a big advantage.

According to the experience of EIT Health young innovators know that AI is a skill of the future and they would like to learn about it. The HelloAIRIS summer school regarding AI in Healthcare organised by GE Healthcare, Leitat and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm in collaboration with EIT Health has resulted in 900 applicants only last year. The main aim of this course is to engage talents from Central, Eastern or Southern European regions and build a community of AI-ninjas equipped with future-needed skills and marketable EIT Health certificate.

When it comes to digital ability, entrepreneurs should have a basic knowledge of online marketing, too, in order to increase their chances of success. If they use it wisely, start-ups will have a real chance of competing against big players who have much bigger resources. Innovators can easily create a customer base, test new markets, build brand awareness or generate traffic in an inexpensive way.

According to the World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs Report[2] critical thinking and problem solving top the list of skills that employers believe will grow in prominence in the next five years. They should, however, be coupled with excellent communication skills. If you can communicate your ideas concisely and articulate it to investors, clients or colleagues, it can determine your business success. As Carolyn O’Hara writes in the Harvard Business Review, “leaders who can create and share good stories have a powerful advantage over others”. Storytelling is a skill that one can improve taking into consideration some basic ideas: Who’s the audience? What is your ultimate message? Can you share your own life experience in order to make the story more personal and compelling? 

Another thing to consider is using the pyramid principle, which builds on the fundamental finding that our minds automatically sorts information into distinctive pyramidal groupings. It means that most written (business) documents should be structured to form a pyramid of ideas. The principle is a bit like the ‘philosopher’s stone’ of communication: it helps you reason logically, express your ideas with clarity, define complex problems succinctly and structure your reasoning into a clear and transparent argument – writes Barbara Minto, author of the international bestseller, The Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing and Thinking, who developed the idea behind the pyramid principle while working at McKinsey&Company.

EIT Health put great emphasis on encouraging competitors to think critically, prepare them to difficult situations and show them how to overcome different obstacles. Throughout these programmes applicants can gain medical and business validation for their projects, reach an international network of collaboratives, investors and future customers, and improve – besides many other crucial skills – their business and communication skills, including practice giving pitches in front of an audience with the help of experts” – emphasised Tamás Békási, RIS Business Creation Manager at EIT Health InnoStars.

In the next part we will present you with the other four essential skills that every entrepreneur should have.

[1] https://eithealth.eu/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/EIT-Health-and-McKinsey_Transforming-Healthcare-with-AI.pdf

[2] http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2020.pdf