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Lucy Chard
14 Mar 2023

Pharmapack 2023 – Take the Start-Up innovation tour

At Pharmapack 2023 in Paris we debuted a new and improved Start-Up Hub. The Hub included several start-up companies we are looking to support and make the event more accessible. 

Cleverly situated next to the Innovation Gallery (there are no accidents) the 14 companies set up their stands ready to meet potential collaborators, as well as to showcase their innovative products and technologies.

Tours, led by Start-Up Programme Manager, Sophie Whitehead, took attendees around the Innovation Hub, providing an insight into each companies’ fabulous work. 

“We’re excited to host 14 start-ups in the Pharmapack Start-Up Hub this year, double the participation from 2022, which is fantastic to see. Through working in close collaboration with industry, we hope to support the start-up ecosystem by offering a host of targeted features at our event, including our Start-Up Mentor Panel, a Networking Roundtable and the chance to exhibit in a dedicated zone”, enthused Sophie. 

I took my own tour of the start-ups, speaking to the people behind the ideas, and asked them what they thought of creating space for start-up companies in the pharmaceutical industry. 

This year we have doubled the size of the Start-Up Hub at Pharmapack, how important is this initiative for you and what are you hoping to get out of it?  

The founders from Pantec AG, who brought Pharmapan and their device, Dosepan, to Pharmapack this year, highlighted how important it was to meet people face-to-face, and this hub was the perfect place to do so, giving an opportunity to meet new customers and kick start new projects. 

This sentiment was echoed by Felix Müller from Plus10 – an AI software company – who pointed out that as a condensed area in the show hall, people would come specifically with an open mind to seeing something new and getting new ideas. 

Müller makes a brilliant point here, as often at these events people have an idea of what they want to get out of the show, and with an area that is completely dedicated to nurturing that integration of novel and innovative ideas, this puts it on the agenda for the other exhibitors and visitors. 

Phil Green, a consultant at Congruence takes this one step further, eluding to the fact that the Hub adds a level of intrigue to the conference itself: 

“To have something here that is a bit more forward-looking is good and makes the conference a bit more interesting and maybe attracts more people.”

Ricky Stoch, who is in the start-up hub exhibiting her company StudioFundi with their product, Febrisol, clearly states how the initiative makes attending Pharmapack more accessible for smaller companies: 

“It’s super important because the big stands at a trade show are prohibitively expensive for a start-up, so to be able to have a stand, even if it’s smaller, it gives you access to people that you are trying to engage with or connect with, which is hugely, hugely useful.”

Indevax, who are exhibiting in the Start-Up Hub with their Vax-ID drug delivery device, attended Pharmapack for the first time, accessing a new but necessary audience for their business: 

“Previous events we’ve been to were linked to the application, so linked to vaccination, to oncology, so really to the drug that would be administered into the dermis. The difference here is that it gives us a good view as to the need for this device, how do different people perceive this type of innovation for drug delivery and injectables? You get a lot of that feedback at this type of conference.”

The Hub included an appointment system that allowed other exhibitors and attendees to book in times to come and speak to the start-up innovators, and they can ask about their devices and their technologies, but also the start-ups are able to gain valuable feedback from these potential future investors, which is endlessly helpful in continuing to develop their portfolios. 

Green described the interactions they’ve had so far: 

“You ask them, what are you looking for, how could these devices be used for you and other companies, and they are generally surprisingly open, and then you can go back and think well maybe that’s another approach we can take.”

Gautum Shetty, Founder of Congruence built on this point: 

“Feedback is essential, start-ups or early-stage companies by their very nature are small, there are only so many inputs available in-house, so any feedback that you can receive from the outside is tremendously helpful in trying to refine what you’re offering and also refine what your message is.”

Next, I wanted to know more about what the start-ups were striving for and what the roadmap was like for these companies over the next few years. 

Most of the start-ups are hoping to get a foot in the door and catch the eye of the big pharma companies, those that can benefit from their products. Others are hoping to connect with private companies that can help them expand and grow, bringing expertise together to ultimately benefit patients. 

Plus10 are hoping to internationalise the company, with their first clients in the USA they are hoping to set out a structure that they can then use in the future: 

“Get a roadmap out on how to roll out our software on the northern American market. That’s this year, then next year… steps rather towards Asia. We want to deliver software, learning, and service tools to people in the Asia pacific area,” Said Müller. 

On speaking with Queen Tannous from Sealester, who was attending Pharmapack to advertise their game-changing packaging sealing technology, which fabricates and seals soft packaging in all desired forms using a unique tool, we covered why such technology was important for the future as a more sustainable option: 

“Our main goal is to decrease the use of plastic in all packaging applications, this is why we are implementing new technologies to decrease production waste, and we can give our clients the choice of materials in order to be environmentally friendly so we can have less of a negative impact on the planet.”

For Stoch, she wants to see her product in use, taken up by the big pharma companies and then applied how it is meant to, to help patients in the day-to-day management of their conditions:

“The big dream, I know I’ll have made it, is if I walk into a pharmacy somewhere to get my medication and it’s handed to me with the Febrisol.”

The overall sense I had from speaking with the people behind the start-ups was that they could have all of these brilliant ideas – ideas that would improve current systems and positively impact the industry (from patient adherence to sustainability) – but they need time and wider collaboration to bring these ideas to fruition. 

This is where we, at CPHI, can help.

This led me to ask how and why supporting start-ups was so important for the industry.  

Previously, the pharma industry has felt very competitive, with large companies battling it out to bring the latest big drug to market as quickly as possible. Although this urgency still exists, there is a definite shift towards collaboration, with businesses recognising that they achieve the best results for the health of the population by working together. This is starting to be carried through into supporting Start-Ups to encourage further innovation, and many of our start-up contributors commented on how start-ups could provide ideas, but they need support in the execution phases. 

Tannous commented: 

“There are many people that have really great ideas, but they don’t necessarily have the means, economically to pursue these ideas, or even to be acknowledged, so it’s good to have the Start-Up Hub… [we get interrupted in a very timely fashion by a large pharma company who is interested in Sealester’s product offering] because as you can see a really big company has just passed by that is interested!”

Joost Hendriks from Luo Automation (a company specialising in the automation of official inspection of liquids for pharmaceutical applications) expanded on this: 

“I think conventional companies use conventional technology and it can be good for start-ups to produce a new insight on a problem that currently exists or even a solution that hasn’t been thought of yet. But if, as a start-up, you don’t have the financial resources ready and the power to reach customers, innovation will stagnate because there is no grounding for it.”

Indevax representative Vanessa van Kerckhoven commented on the trends in this aspect of the pharma packaging industry: 

“Large pharma companies are starting to partner with the smaller companies, and opening up to innovation, they did this before but they were always more hesitant, COVID-19 opened up a new era because they had to bring in so much more innovation, for us that’s really helpful and creates additional momentum that we didn’t have pre-COIVD.”

Sophie is passionate about supporting the start-ups at CPHI, advocating for them at every turn: 

“It is wonderful to be able to cultivate innovation from within CPHI. By including a Start-Up Market at our event, I consider us not only so fortunate in hearing about the mind-blowing work these start-ups are doing from the pharma, biopharma, digital or medical device sectors, but also, we’re able to have an immediate impact in helping to grow their businesses, by identifying their need, and connecting them with mentorship, investors, or raising their visibility at the show. Our end goal is to watch the start-ups grow, and we’re excited to be able to help facilitate, and catalyse, this process however we can.”

It was a brilliant opportunity to speak to all of the people behind the start-up companies showcased at Pharmapack, finding out about their ground-breaking ideas and technologies, which will hopefully feature in the future of pharma as we move towards more automated processes, using more sustainable products, and devices that are more convenient and pain free for the patient. 

Sophie commented: 

“I love working with the start-ups – many of these are young companies who need to gain visibility, money or mentorship, and it’s exciting to be able to help them along in their journey – and they help me too! Keeping me up to date on the wonderful innovation happening in the market. I feel very grateful and thankful for this role!”

We are looking forward to following the work of the start-ups and seeing some back at Pharmapack next year, hopefully as fully fledged exhibitors. 

Mentioned Companies
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Luo Automation B.V.
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Pantec AG
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Pharmapan AG
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plus10 GmbH
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Lucy Chard
Digital Editor - Pharma

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