The Role of Knowledge and Quality in Life Sciences and Deep Tech Education: Insights from SmiLe Venture Hub

“Innovation in life sciences is not just about ground-breaking discoveries but also about making these discoveries accessible and beneficial to society.”

We are delighted that we recently had an opportunity to chat with Ebba Fahraeus, CEO, and Sara Wanther, Grants Officer, at EIT Deep Tech Talent Pledger SmiLe Venture Hub, a non-profit venture builder helping early life science companies develop their business ideas and build successful companies within MedTech, BioTech, e-Health, Diagnostics and Foodtech.

Swedish-based SmiLe Venture Hub, previously known as SmiLe Incubator AB, started off 16 years’ ago as an incubator for life sciences companies. However, its evolution over the years into SmiLe Venture Hub reflects its broader role in supporting ventures beyond just incubation.

The origins of SmiLe Venture Hub are rooted in the relocation of AstraZeneca’s development department, which left behind a wealth of infrastructure and talent. This move catalysed the former AstraZeneca employees who chose to stay, to start their own companies, which has driven Southern Sweden’s life science innovation ecosystem.

SmiLe Venture Hub’s core activities revolve around their incubator program, which supports companies with extensive business coaching, access to a large international network of investors and industry experts as well as access to a unique lab infrastructure consisting of eleven state-of-the-art, in-house laboratory facilities. This support structure is complemented with educational programs like e-Campus and various boot camps, designed to educate and nurture entrepreneurs at different stages of their journey.

One of the significant challenges Ebba and Sara identified during our conversation is the cultural and mind-set shift required for researchers transitioning to entrepreneurship, which not only involves acquiring new skills but also adapting to a different way of working, where the focus shifts from academic excellence to collaboration, peer-learning, sharing and understanding ones market and customer.

“It’s a mind shift from being a researcher, where you’re hiding your results until publication, to an entrepreneurial mind-set where collaboration and open communication are key.”

On addressing the broader talent landscape, and the challenges of attracting and retaining skilled professionals Ebba and Sara agreed the need to find better ways to retain the talents attracted from outside Europe, along with more flexibility in job descriptions and recruitment processes to attract specialised talent. Additionally, they have noticed a change in attitude which needs to be addressed. Young people today are more focused on what’s in it for them and seem to view asking for help as a sign of weakness. This shift presents a challenge in managing and integrating young talent into the entrepreneurial ecosystem, where collaboration and open communication are crucial.

The interview also touched on the impact emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and large language models are having on the entrepreneurial landscape. While AI is already a part of many of SmiLe’s members products, Ebba and Sara pointed out the dual need for efficiency and caution in using these technologies, also highlighting the importance of cybersecurity and the need for secure handling of health data, which is particularly relevant for their life sciences focus.

That said, they stressed that emerging technologies including AI and machine learning (ML), especially in life sciences have the potential to revolutionise the field, from personalised medicine to predictive analytics in public health.

However, they also highlighted the importance for those using these technologies to stay on top of things and fully understand the tools, because as more sophisticated technologies are integrated, the volume and complexity of data increases which poses significant challenges in terms of data quality and verification. And this is particularly crucial in life sciences, where the stakes are high, and the margin for error is minimal.

“With emerging tools and techniques becoming increasingly powerful, a deep understanding of the core principles is essential to apply these innovations effectively.”

There is a need for the life sciences and tech education sectors to take these developments seriously and respond early, because the effective use and verification of results from emerging technologies is key in supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs and professionals foster innovation and ensure new technologies are applied ethically.