BME-IDEA Europe: Toolboxes for need-led innovation

This year, the BME-IDEA meeting was organized by the Oxford Biodesign Programme ( with support from EIT Health ( and was held in a nice academic environment at the University of Oxford. The event focused on toolboxes and stressed the need for digital tools to aid innovators and educators: better digital tools could enhance collaboration and communication in innovation processes. 

The BME-IDEA meeting attracted participants mostly from Europe (Denmark, Finland, Germany, Poland, Spain, Sweden, UK) and the USA. Most of the participating European countries were members of the EIT Health network, Finland being the only exception. Participating countries varied in their level of experience in managing and running Biodesign projects. Representatives of the Oxford Biodesign Programme, which has been running already for six years, Stanford Biodesign (founded in 2000), and, e.g., Biocat created a good base for exchanging ideas and interacting.

Although Biodesign Finland has been teaching innovative thinking already since 2016, there was a lot of new to learn also for us. Of the other participating countries, Denmark and Poland were in the process of starting their first Biodesign projects.

The first day of the meeting covered a wide range of topics on tools developed to aid need-led innovation processes. The program included talks about digital tools for GDPR, an interactive educational course for medical technology entrepreneurship, a web-based collaboration tool, digital activities in EIT Health, and Biodesign training modules by Ctrl Group. In addition, an online tool for classifying medical devices, which aims to help innovators in their regulatory processes, was introduced.

The official program of the first day ended with round-table discussions on three topics: (1) local vs global, (2) the future need-led innovator, and (3) social entrepreneurship. The future need-led innovator table discussed about the necessary steps, priorities, and wishes when developing a need-led innovation, the point of view being that of the process participants, e.g., Biodesign fellows, the organizing university, and other stakeholders. The local vs global table discussed about innovations and their markets in terms of scale as well as the benefits of having a local/global Biodesign community. The day finished with an entertaining guided walking tour in the heart of Oxford followed by a relaxing networking dinner.


The second and the last day of the event offered hands-on experience on some of the discussed digital tools, e.g., the above-mentioned online guide for medical device classification. Overall, the event had great atmosphere and offered nice time for networking and learning more about other Biodesign projects, their struggles and joys.

Biodesign in practice

In Biodesign, systematically identified medical needs are solved by inventing and implementing new biomedical technologies.

Developed at Stanford University, Biodesign aims at improved medical care by providing a novel entrepreneurial program to selected interdisciplinary teams and by creating new businesses. After initial training,the team is immersed in a clinic for a month to observe its processes. The team’s sole task during immersion is to identify 100–200 needs that have not been optimally met. After immersion, the team will brainstorm and analyze these needs in order to determine the most important and solvable ones. Eventually, one need will be chosen and a solution developed for clinical use and commercialization.

During the brainstorming and development phase, the team will be aided by a network of mentors, coaches, and stakeholders: clinicians, patient group representatives, scientists, engineers, IT experts, designers, and entrepreneurs. Depending on the technical or medical problem at hand, volunteer experts are asked to participate in some of the brainstorming sessions. One or two teams will participate in Biodesign training in each year; most of them are expected to lead to commercialization either in startups or existing companies.


Project manager:
Heikki Nieminen

Postal address:
Department of Neuroscience and Biomedical Engineering, Aalto University School of Science P.O. Box 12200, FI-00076 AALTO, Finland

Visiting Address:
Rakentajanaukio 2 C 02150 Espoo, Finland

Project coordinator:
Salla Keränen

Impact & communications coordinator:
Otto Olavinen