How to make partnerships between healthcare incumbents and digital health startups work

Healthcare companies are using different channels to manage partnerships with startups, including accelerators, investment funds or innovation hubs. Still, most partnerships fail. On the 5th of November, R2G invited digital innovation leaders from pharma, health insurance, and hospitals to discuss reasons for failure and dos and don’ts.

On the 5th of November, R2G hosted a Fireside Chat event in Berlin to discuss how partnerships between incumbents and startups should be managed. Invited representatives from pharmaceutical companies, health insurances, and hospitals.

The workshop-like discussion was stimulated by a best practice presentation from Nathalie Bloch, Head of Digital Innovation at Sheba Medical Center in Israel and a summary of results of R2G’s global study on partnerships in the digital health market.


  • The expected success rate of a partnership between a startup and a healthcare incumbent is around 25%; 16% of the participants strongly believe that it is almost impossible to create a mutually beneficial partnership
  • Top three major breaking points in the partnering process are a lack of clear partnership strategy, unmatched expectations between partners and long decision-making times
  • Companies spend most time and effort on the first partnership stages: roadmap, partner screening and contracting; however, the risks of partnership failure increase at the later stages – partnership management and upscaling/ integration
  • Around 37% of the survey respondents would prefer a startup to keep its full strategic and operational independence and 30% think that an established healthcare organization should apply an arm’s length approach in their relations with startups
  • Corporates are mostly satisfied with getting access to new technologies (78%), whereas startups are mostly satisfied with gaining market reputation (53%)
  • To learn more stay tuned for R2G’s “Startups-Corporate Partnerships in Digital Health” whitepaper

During the second part of the Fireside chat Nathalie delved into how Sheba Medical Center, the biggest hospital in Israel with over 1,700 beds, manages innovation and how the emerging solutions in AI, big data and telehealth are incorporated in the hospital care. Nathalie and the innovation team of around 20 members (mainly data scientists) are driving partnership-based digital health innovation at Sheba Medical Center: they have screened over 200 innovative startups from all over the world and signed partnership agreements with 24 of them. In her presentation, Nathalie shared some of the success stories that came out of the hospital-startup partnerships, described their approach to partnership management and the main factors contributing to the success.


  • Not spending time and resources on inventing things that already exist but bringing the innovative technologies in by partnerships
  • Signing agreements with startups only in cases when there is a solid foundation for a pilot project and an internal sponsor from the hospital staff to take responsibility for the partnership
  • Allowing HCPs to take governance roles in the startups upon pilots’ completion to motivate participation during the pilot
  • Letting startups pay for access to HCPs and medical data since pilot projects require financial resources
  • Letting startups keep their independence by not making them part of the core business: to be at the top of their game and innovate, startups need to be small, enthusiastic and keep their killer instinct. It hard to create something if a startup becomes a part of a company, “They become like us, and we do not become like them”
  • Having strong support of the innovation program by the CEO
  • Combining the innovation coming from the hospital staff, digital health startups, large innovation partners among established healthcare organizations and academia

R2G Fireside Chat is an invitation-only event that aims to help digital health decision-makers learn key insights, lessons learned and success stories from each other in a more intimate and interactive way. If you would like to learn more about the next topic of R2G’s Fireside Chat and be part of it, please contact us.

Also. Find global partnership opportunities from pharma, hospitals and health insurance companies and get in touch on

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