Startup in the spotlight: Elevate Health

Elevate Health emerged from an idea explored by UMC Utrecht's Julius Centre division. The spin-off then grew into a company that has trained over 10,000 health care professionals worldwide in its own online learning environment. Sietske Zagers, Managing Director, explains: ‘Elevate Health offers online and blended learning solutions, geared towards health care professionals and researchers working in life sciences. In five years' time, the academic start-up has grown into a solid scale-up with a societal impact.’

Commercial knowledge transfer from Utrecht

Zagers delves deeper into the genesis of the company: ‘While in Mexico, Professor Rick Grobbee was inspired by the Monterrey Institute of Technology's TecVirtual and thought: we need to do something like that in Utrecht. We offer high-quality Master's degrees and courses that we can now make accessible to an international audience without having to travel the entire world. What started as an UMCU project soon became a private limited company. There were certain advantages to this, because the entrepreneurial nature of the work encouraged us to come up with sustainable business models for a commercial knowledge transfer, all of which helps knowledge institutions have an impact on society.’

Reducing health inequalities across the globe

Elevate Health's mission is to reduce health inequalities across the globe: ‘We wish to train as many health care professionals as possible and equip them with knowledge that they can share all over the world by means of well-thought-out and well-tested courses. These courses are interactive and personalised and come with flexible arrangements for participants. Our courses encourage participants to stay in touch with their fellow students, experts and the so-called e-moderator, which contributes to a higher success rate.’

The importance of public-private partnerships

Not only did Elevate Health carefully think through its concepts, but it also did a thorough job of drawing up its business models: ‘Roughly speaking, Elevate Health has three sources of income. The first source is the B2C market. We offer courses and even an entire online Master's degree, all accredited by Utrecht University, for which students pay a fee. With regard to the B2B market, we create custom-made courses for companies. For instance, the Netherlands Federation of University Medical Centres (NFU) is one of our major clients. Last but not least, we have partnered up with other companies in various international consortia, such as Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ programmes, which are partially funded by the European Union. We are firm believers in the power of public-private partnerships. SMEs can genuinely create added value and help keep a course running in the long term. This allows our subject matter experts from UMCU to focus on the content, while we arrange everything else, such as hosting, support and updates.’

Innovation and international ambitions

Elevate Health focuses on the future in various ways. Zagers: ‘Our R&D activities are geared towards educational innovation, for instance in terms of further automating various tasks in our learning environment. For example, we are researching what is possible in terms of an Edubot on the basis of learning analytics and by utilising artificial intelligence (AI).’
In addition, the company is making strides internationally: ‘We have partnered up with other companies in 15 international consortia and our courses can currently be taken in 70 countries. We'd really like to increase this global impact. In July, we will join the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' trade mission to Kenya, organised by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO). Our purpose is to set up a train-the-trainer course to help locals build more capacity. To this end, we have signed a cooperation agreement with Amref Health Africa. In Asia, we are working on a specific project involving several universities in Indonesia, with whom we are discussing the establishment of a hub in Jakarta.’

The added value of challenges

On 14 May, Elevate Health was given the opportunity to pitch its services at the Academic Startup Competition. This is what Zagers had to say about that experience: ‘Challenges such as the Academic Startup Competition are very useful and educational, whether you win them or not. Even though we have by now survived our first five years as a start-up, which are critical, and have reached the break-even point, it will be a challenge to keep growing in the next stage, as a scale-up. To that end, we have to stay sharp every day, learn from our mistakes and do things better than we did them the day before. Young entrepreneurs, in particular, must always keep learning, and taking part in such challenges helps them do so.’