Rising Star | Heleen Willemsen, BabyBloom Healthcare

LA Report: Why did you set up your company?

Because I wanted to bring necessary changes to the incubator market


LA Report: When did you set up your business, and how long did it take?

We officially founded our company in 2009. This was after about 2 years of preparation; mainly finding investors to be able to start our technical development.


LA Report: Did you have a ‘lightbulb moment’ (i.e. which led to you starting your business, or which triggered a change in the way you did things)?

You could say that moment was when I walked into an incubator ward in a hospital the first time. Immediately I saw how badly things needed to be improved.


LA Report: What education or training did you have?

I hold an MSc in Industrial Design Engineering


LA Report: Where did you source funding to set up your business?

In order to be able to start development in the very first phase, we were funded by informal investors, in combination with a bank. In a later investment round, we were financed by a regional investment fund.


LA Report: Were there any EU, national, regional or local business support services, programmes or funding initiatives that helped you set up or grow?

Yes. We were able use of a subsidy, a local innovation loan, and a state innovation loan.


LA Report: With hindsight, which would have been the single most valuable skill to have before setting up your business?

To be persuasive and convincing enough to get others to share your vision and believe in your dream.


LA Report: Do you have a mentor?

Not one official mentor, but throughout the years we had several advisors helping us with various aspects of the business.


LA Report: Who is your greatest role model or inspiration?

I have always been inspired by the Dutch company Bugaboo, who singlehandedly revolutionized the entire baby stroller market and who have always put users first in their designs.


LA Report: What is the USP that distinguishes your product or service from its competitors?

We make the only baby incubator that is designed and developed from the perspective of the needs of the patient and parents, instead of taking existing technology as the starting point. It is the only incubator that can be placed over mother’s hospital bed, the only incubator that protects the baby against too much noise and light, and the only incubator that allows nurses and parents can sit at in a comfortable position.


LA Report: How does your company impact people’s lives for the better?

With the incubator, we strive to improve the premature baby’s development, as well as the parent-child bonding.


LA Report: How would you describe your progress so far? Are there any significant challenges you have had to overcome?

One of our biggest challenges was to obtain the necessary certifications for our company and for our product. For a start-up, this is an enormous hurdle to overcome. Luckily we succeeded, and soon after reaching this milestone we set up production and an international distribution network. Our first full year on the market – 2015 – showed very promising growth.


LA Report: How are you planning to grow your business?

We work with a local distributor in every country. Together with these established companies, we go hospital by hospital, area by area to promote our product.


LA Report: If you were in charge of the government ministry for SMEs and start-ups, what would be the three most important changes you would make to help them grow?

In the field of medical devices in particular, I would take a good look at the existing certification demands. Of course, all real safety-inducing standards and rules should stay, but there is a lot of unnecessary red tape (compulsory quality procedures and documents which must be completed, etc.) that represents an enormous burden – both in terms of time and money – for small companies.

Second, I would do something to end the dependence of small companies on notified bodies in our sector. To overcome this, I would either stimulate competition of the notified bodies that can give out certification so that prices can go down and quality up (the opposite of what is happening now with the MDD/ MDR changes that strives to decrease the amount of notified bodies), or I would make the certification process free of charge or very low cost and executed by independent organisations instead of market parties (as the US does via the FDA). In the current European situation, every medical device company is obliged to work with a notified body. Because there is often only one body in the country or area, there is no real competition; this in turn leads to enormous costs, long delivery times and often low quality.


LA Report: The best thing about being an entrepreneur is…?

The freedom to set your own direction and make your own decisions.


LA Report: What do you see as the key trends/disruptors for 2016 relevant to entrepreneurs?

In the realm of healthcare in particular, I envision the ongoing trend for the ‘humanisation’ of care.


LA Report: If you could go back to when you were about to start your company and give yourself a single message or piece of advice, what would it be?

Take it step by step, and keep your focus!


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