The Florida-Israel Business Accelerator, based in Tampa, hosted its first Connection to Innovation event of 2021 on Thursday and, like other events in the series since the start of the pandemic, it was held virtually via Zoom. However, that allowed attendees to hear directly from Lena Rogovin, an expert in the growing field of digital health and life sciences who’s based in Israel.
Rogovin, along with retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Paul Sohl, the CEO of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, was a featured speaker at the event. She is an analyst with Start-up Nation Central, an Israeli nonprofit that accumulates knowledge and generates in-depth insights about Israel’s innovation sector, and shares these with clients and partners.
With more startups, per capita, than any other country, Israel is widely known as the Startup Nation, and digital health and life sciences has been a huge part of the transformation of its economy. According to Rogovin, as of 2020, Israel’s digital health sector included 675 companies, 180 investors and four industry-specific business incubators. The country has been collecting and digitizing health care data about its population of nine million people for 25 years, she said.
“Israel is a global digital health hub, despite its small size,” Rogovin said. “But about 15, 20 years ago, digital health was just another name for medical IT, so it was basically about all the nonclinical processes which help to streamline clinical workflow and digitalize existing clinical workflow.”
That all changed, Rogovin said, about 10 years ago with the advent of wearable health and fitness trackers. She called that the “second stage” of the digital health sector’s development, and now the country is entering a third stage in which it’s learning how to translate digital health data for purposes such as early prediction of diseases.
“This is the most exciting part … treating disease or specific medical conditions,” she said.
Of the 675 startups working in the field of digital health, about 25 percent specialize in decision support, meaning they help doctors “make more accurate, personalized and data-driven decisions,” according to Start-Up Nation Central’s website. This particular subsector attracted about $700 million in investment capital between 2015 and 2020, Rogovin stated in her presentation. The second- and third-largest subsectors are diagnostics and remote monitoring.
“What’s important is that it’s a connected ecosystem,” Rogovin said, “including multinationals, investors focusing on the sector and the government, which is not just a regulator, but also a full participant in this industry development.”
Rogovin said she looks at the inflow of investment dollars as a measure of the strength of Israel’s digital health and life sciences industry — and what she sees is encouraging, to say the least.
“What is amazing is that in 2021, we’ve already seen almost $500 million invested in Israeli digital health,” she said, “and this is compared to $800 million for the entirety of 2020.”
That could bode well for the Tampa Bay region because of the presence of FIBA, which works to help Israeli startups get a foothold in the U.S. market. Several members of FIBA’s accelerator program have opened offices in the area and hired locally. Florida-based investors have taken note, funding companies like StemRad, which makes material that protects the body from radiation, to the tune of $7 million.
“Global players recognize Israel as a digital health hub,” Rogovin said. “Probably the most interesting development of 2020 is that all of a sudden, after several years of basically nothing happening, a lot of big pharma companies came to Israel to start digital health innovations.”
For example, she said, drugmaker AstraZeneca, which has produced a Covid-19 vaccine, recently partnered with venture capital firm JVP to establish a business accelerator in Israel.
“Medical data is the new goal,” Rogovin said, “and they have to capitalize on it to improve health care.”
FIBA’s next Connection to Innovation event will be in June. Rakefet Bachur-Phillips, the organization’s co-executive director, said the program for that event will also touch on digital health, with a presentation about how FIBA companies are working with Tampa General Hospital.