‘What does venture or startup contribute to health care?”
‘What does venture or startup contribute to health care?”

Gabrielle Speijer, MD

Get in the Ring 2021, 04/2021

‘What does venture or startup contribute to health care?”

“As a physician, you should be involved in healthcare innovation from the design phase,” says Gabriëlle Speijer, radiation oncologist at Haga Hospital and founder of CatalyzIT. “Our core values should be translated into design principles, and innovations should contribute to the best confidential care and health. Therefore, it is crucial that we steer from the outset.” For this reason, Speijer was a judge at ‘Get In The Ring 2021’ last spring. At this annual event, startups and ventures from all over the world have the opportunity to pitch their technological innovation and network at the same time. “A valuable and educational event for both the jury and the participants.”

Get in the Ring is an initiative of the Dutch Unknown Group, which has built a considerable global network in innovation and entrepreneurship since its establishment in 2008. Every year, Unknown organizes the worldwide startup competition ‘Get in the Ring’, an event that provides access to startups and talented founders in more than 220 cities. Get in the Ring offers thousands of entrepreneurs a platform where they can test, validate and scale their solutions.

In this year’s edition, which took place in various rounds from February to April, Speijer was a judge. “As a doctor, I am able to see whether an innovation will truly contribute to health. From my profession, I am used to quickly performing a ‘sanity check’ on the scientific basis. I also look at things like market positioning, claims made and whether I could offer it to my patient in this way. And if I become convinced that it can make a serious contribution to health, how would my colleagues receive it?” Speijer is happy to share this knowledge and experience with the startups and ventures participating in Get in the Ring.

Virtual boxing ring

Normally, ‘Get in the Ring’ takes place within the setting of an actual boxing ring, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was given a digital form this time. “Nevertheless, there was sufficient opportunity for one-on-one sessions with participants,” says the radiation oncologist. “This offers beautiful interactions. Furthermore, it gives the jury the chance to ask very baseline questions to developers in order to come to a well-considered judgment about the practical value of their idea.”

Speijer indicates that with an investor, other things are weighed than with a doctor. “Yet we still too often take for granted that the design, scaling, and further development take place outside the scope of our clinical practice. And yet, these developments affect the same health on which we focus, and therefore also the outcome of our actions as doctors. The adage ‘if it does not help, it does not harm’ certainly does not apply here. Worse still: digitalization has an exponentially scaling effect. If something goes wrong, the damage cannot be foreseen. But if an innovation does have benefits, there is an opportunity to improve healthcare exponentially. And as a doctor, I am really looking forward to that.”

Valuable pitches

Speijer finds two pitches worth examining in more detail. One, Snorefree, approaches healthcare predominantly from the perspective of the citizen, namely through health and fitness apps. The other, Oncompass, operates mainly from the clinical and research world.

The Snorefree Health App is, according to its creator Sigismund Gänger, the first app to offer an effective approach to snoring and sleep-related breathing problems. Gänger: “Snoring is a problem that millions of people suffer from and carries significant health risks. Conventional therapies can be invasive, painful, and costly, but at the same time, they are not very effective. The training in Snorefree is derived from speech therapy and has a solid scientific basis.”

When Speijer attended the pitch, her first thought was: it probably won’t work. “But after I played with the app myself, I decided to approach and ask them why they weren’t mentioning it. They told me that app development in healthcare was too difficult for them to keep up with. When I spoke with the developers, it turned out that they had conducted years of research as the basis for the app, but they had not communicated it effectively. I recommended that they do so, and they subsequently put it into practice.”

Gänger is pleased with Speijer’s feedback. “It was well-founded and to the point. We have already incorporated some proposals into the recent update of the app.”

As preparation for the pitch, Speijer delved into snoring problems and their consequences for health. She found it instructive and a lesson in modesty. “As a doctor in the consultation room, you must also have this modesty. Because you have to be able to see that your initial diagnosis is not correct and that you therefore have to ask further questions to get the broader perspective.”


The second pitch that Speijer had to re-evaluate her opinion on after her first impression was Oncompass. According to developer Istvan Petak, this is the first AI-based computational method for supporting treatment decisions in oncology. The software is registered as a medical device and validated in a clinical trial, with the results of the trial published in Precision Oncology.

“My first impression was that this option to find the best targeted therapy for the patient was too disconnected from practice,” Speijer says. “But the developer turned out to have incorporated his years of experience from practice into an open and therefore testable model. Moreover, it is possible to smoothly transition from current clinical trial-based practice to making large amounts of data transparent using AI and machine learning.”

Oncompass offers clinicians the opportunity to treat more precisely: precision oncology learning from their own outcomes, based on real-world data. An advantage is that the developer collaborates with other clinics and parties, and always driven by clinical added value. Speijer says, “I find that very impressive. I also thought the way they looked at the technical design was good. We are enabled to continuously maintain a feeling for the system.”

Petak considers Speijer’s input in Get in the Ring to be particularly valuable. “She gave us tips on how to best introduce Oncompass into the professional medical field.”

Value for Practice

The most important question that Speijer wanted to answer in her judging of the Get in the Ring pitches was: what added value does this innovation bring to healthcare? “Based on this, I did a reality check to put all the facts in order, to see if what the developers claim is true and what subjective impressions I could dismiss. Confidentiality is an important theme here, as is the question of how the idea translates into medical practice. Sustainability and agility also play an important role, as well as the question of whether the developer is open to the environment.”

Speijer concludes that Get In The Ring has brought a lot to the participating startups. “It gives them critical feedback on their development and targeted input for further improvement and alignment with the market. Moreover, it puts them in touch with a broad group of people who can advise them and link them to others, so that they can build a network in which they can accelerate.”

For Speijer, it is beyond doubt that the initiatives being evaluated can be of great value to healthcare. “We still use technology too little to get a complete picture of the patient. That can be done much better. And if doctors are in the lead in the development of that technology, we can achieve a tremendous acceleration. That is not a trivial matter, because technology must benefit our work and the outcomes in health. We must work together to achieve that.”

About the author

Gabriëlle Speijer is a Radiation Oncologist at the Haga Hospital, founder of the healthcare innovation company CatalyzIT, HIMSS Future50 International HealthIT leader and member of the ICT&health editorial board.