Start-ups valley is flourishing in Cluj-Napoca

The Romanian „capital” of innovation gets European recognition and the EIT Health award.

In 2020, several start-ups from Central, Eastern and Southern Europe proved that emerging countries in Europe are a gold mine of pioneering innovations and great young talents. One of the regions that constantly proves to be an innovation field is Romanian Cluj-Napoca. Cluj-Napoca has distinguished itself over the years as one of the most important innovation hubs in Romania. The unofficial capital of Transylvania – which hosted the Start-up Europe Summit last year – became very active in the last 15 years in terms of its start-up ecosystem, and in 2019, an estimated €3M were reportedly invested in Cluj-based start-ups from different industries. Recently Cluj-Napoca was included amongst the six finalist cities in the competition for the title of European Capital of Innovation 2020.

This year, the Romanian hub outperformed that in the EIT Health RIS Innovation Call, with four winning teams in total. The entrants are working in areas from lung cancer diagnosis to robotic systems for limb rehabilitation. Ion-Gheorghe Petrovai, co-founder of Freshblood HealthTech, says the primary reason for Cluj’s success is its strong educational institutions, specifically the Babes-Bolyai University, Technical University, and University of Medicine and Pharmacy, of which the latter has a sizeable number of foreign students studying in French and English. All have long traditions and are among the best in Romania, he says. They, in turn, provide the technological proficiency in the region “that has been tested and developed at the global level” he adds.

EIT Health supports the regional development

Cluj-Napoca is one of the regions supported within the EIT Health Regional Innovation Scheme. Together with 13 other moderate regions in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe is being equipped with education, acceleration and innovation opportunities. Mr. Petrovai says support from EIT Health has enabled training and knowledge sharing among innovators in the Cluj region with like-minded people from all over Europe. “I often say, we have the fire, EIT Health came with the fuel, now the flame is visible across Europe. The evolution in the last 3 years could not have happened without their support.”

The achievements and pro-active approach of the leader of this regional EIT Health Hub were recognised with the Innovation Community Leadership Award 2020. This is the very first time when this award was given to the regional leader of innovation. It is a proof of excellence in putting a spotlight to Cluj-Napoca and the whole country on the EU level.

“Cluj is only one of a series of regional innovation hubs, ranging from Porto to Athens, the Greek capital, to Ljubljana, all supported by EIT Health. We see that each and every region has made a significant development step. More and more scientific and research teams who compete on the European start-ups stages come from regions included in the EIT Health Regional Innovation Scheme. The most important is that we can help them bring ideas to life that can improve for instance diagnostics of patients, remote therapy management, decision support in precision medicine. This is the biggest value we create and how we contribute to improve healthy living of citizens across Europe.”, underlines Monika Toth, Programme Manager of the EIT Health Regional Innovation Scheme.

This year, next to the great results in the EIT Health RIS Innovation Call, Romanian teams performed exceptionally in the two flagship competitions of EIT Health: InnoStars Awards and EIT Health Headstart. In the InnoStars Awards, 4 start-ups – OncoChain Analytics, I’m Fine, MSing with Trauma, and Voxi Kids – advanced to the semi-finals with their healthcare innovations, while in the Headstart programme DOTLUMEN Srl.’s solution, glasses that use advanced robotics technology to help the visually impaired to navigate won the main prize.

On 23 November, on a joint event with Forbes Romania, moderated by Ionuț Bonoiu, Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Romania and Dr. Ion-Gheorghe Petrovai and the participants discussed the state of the Romanian start-up ecosystem, the financing and development opportunities, the importance of the connection between local education and innovation teams and how Romanian start-ups have become competitive in Europe in the past few years. More information can be found here.