Levi Shapiro and Ellie Hanson - digital health interview

Levi Shapiro & Ellie Hanson - Digital Health in Israel

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The new episode of Digital Health Interviews focuses on the topic of digital health in Israel. The issue experts are Levi Shapiro and Ellie Hanson.


Levi Shapiro: founder of mHealth Israel (a non-profit supporting Israel’s connected health and MedTech community, with 9000+ participants; efforts include a mix of online and offline educational efforts, multinational advisory, etc); created and launched the popular Digital Health Entrepreneurship course in the BioMED MBA program.

Ellie Hanson: experienced marketing communications professional specializing in developing and executing strategic public relations campaigns for companies across the healthcare, MedTech, biotech, and cleantech markets; secured briefings and coverage of clients in leading media outlets such as Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones, and dozens of influential tech/health websites and publications.

At the beginning of the interview, the guests discussed the situation around medical startups in the market. According to data voiced by Levi Shapiro, over the past ten years, funding for digital healthcare companies has increased seven times. The pandemic has become a kind of trigger that has caused the emergence of more and more innovations and investments. And that’s including the fact that historically Israel has been a “hub” of IT-oriented fields.

Levi Shapiro: “When the COVID came along, we were on a certain plateau. The pandemic has become a completely new trigger for development. Patients’ remote care, their monitoring, telemedicine... Companies providing such services have become really successful! In Israel, there are currently 638 digital health companies, about 600 are related to MedTech, and about 400 are BioTech ones. Compared to the previous two years, less capital is available to them, but the trend towards an increase in the number of players in the market continues”.

Ellie Hanson: “Over the last decade, we’ve seen 150 companies established every year. On average, half of them remain active. In 2021, Israeli digital health earned $1.9 billion, more than double the amount from the previous year. COVID has become a real chance for Israel to shine brightly in the digital health environment and present what has been developed in recent times. It was a turning point for us, and the world paid attention to it”.

In 2022, according to experts, digital health startups remain a trend. National health systems in the face of COVID showed their imperfection. There are many opportunities for companies moving towards combining biology for diagnostics and treatment.

Against the background of many other countries, Israel seems to be a revolutionary: the government provides grants and supports digital health startups. For example, about two weeks ago, the government approved a $30 million digital health initiative for healthcare and medical data startups. Israel draws attention to the value of higher education and research development. This creates a very favorable environment. One of the programs here that are working quite well is matching funds for products in the R&D stage. 50/50 — the half comes from the government, and the half is from the private sector. It’s useful for startups to license that data, integrate it, and differentiate their product using that data. The government made a good job to motivate the private sector to participate with startups.

To have cooperation in such a way between startups and governments in other countries, it’s advised for companies to make themselves attractive to the government, to ensure the intellectual property. Even if the money isn’t available as a grant, there can be some kind of tender. EU, for instance, has a lot of programs supporting R&D products. The key is to identify your intellectual property with your local market.

Further, the experts examined in detail the differences between the Israeli medical system and safety standards and other countries, in particular — the USA.

Ellie Hanson: “I can tell as a patient how convenient it is having the whole system digitalized. When I go to the clinic within my HMO (health maintenance organization — fn), the all of medicians have access to my files, that’s very unique in Israel. I hope eventually in the USA we’ll get a more unified system”.

Israel is a great testing ground for technologies, especially — in the sphere of digital health. Shooting stars from the sky and being ahead of, many digital startups in Israel are trying to conquer the American market. But is their way so simple?

Levi Shapiro: 52% of global health spending is in the United States. Israel historically looks toward the US. Some of our companies grew organically, built a market, and then decided to make a transition, becoming globally. They haven’t been very successful… Even having the ability to make pilots with hospitals here.

The rest of the conversation was about marketing and its role for startups. Here, Ellie, as an experienced specialist in the field, shared her opinion regarding the timing of the launch of a marketing company and promotional channels for digital health startups.

Ellie Hanson: “Marketing strategy needs to be a part of the discussion from the very beginning. The startupers think if they build something great and wonderful, people will want it, but it’s more complicated: you may have a great design, but you need to understand, how your solution is fixed in the market and how your innovation can be implemented… It’s about creating the identity, to make the market understand, what are you doing and why do they need what are you doing. When it comes to marketing strategy, you need preparation time; you need to build a foundation for what you are trying to achieve. It all should be communicated early”.

“PR is not about just press releases, there are many tools you can’t build a PR strategy if you’re alone. Your first step is planning: as Gil Bashe said, “if you don’t know, where you’re going, any road is gonna take you there”. Establishing your goals, you are to understand, who you are going for and what is your message, what is your unique offering. Once you know all of these answers, then you can go to your marketing toolkit: you are to create a sustainable campaign, you have press releases, you have interviews with media, participate in podcasts, and write articles and opinions. Don’t forget about social media: what your tone of voice should be, and how you should interact with others. There are all incredibly important things, having which you can create visibility.

According to the trends on the market, our guests have some recommendations for investment in startups.

Levi Shapiro: “My focus is timing, my obsession is about timing. This moment is not about what we can do in the cloud; it’s about interdisciplinary solutions and not about just simple diagnostics”.

Ellie Hanson: “I think decentralized clinical platforms are very important now, they have a lot of opportunities. But first, watch beyond the idea: you should see a business plan”.

And finally, there are some invaluable pieces of advice for those who see their future in digital health.

Ellie Hanson: 1) Don’t overfocus on the gadgetry of your invention. Focus on the impact that your technology will have on users. It’s not just about features — it’s about value. 2) Definitely have a strategy, but also be flexible: make sure that your passionate innovation actually translates into value creation, and that you have a sustainable business model. 3) Surround yourself with the right partners: you need people, who can really support you.

Levi Shapiro: Think big, go big. It’s nice when you can do something nicer, cheaper, and faster, but the real challenge is fixing a broken system.

Hope you enjoy watching this new episode. 

Our previous episode was with Evan Kirstel and Irma Rastegayeva: Digital Health in Ukraine


Alex Koshykov
Alex Koshykov (COO) with more than 10 years of experience in product and project management, passionate about startups and building an ecosystem for them to succeed.
Mariia Maliuta
Mariia Maliuta (Copywriter) "Woman of the Word" in BeKey; technical translator/interpreter & writer

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