Innovating Healthcare Tourism

UMIO’s Service Science Factory (SSF), with its track record of introducing innovation in healthcare offerings, provided a two-week workshop in Portugal, focusing on entrepreneurial skills for healthcare PhDs. Key objectives: the development of innovative business models in healthcare tourism and strengthening researchers’ innovation capacity.

International research cooperation

The workshop came in the form of the Alhtour Innovation & Entrepreneurship School for PhD students. The Alhtour project is about developing Assisted Living Technologies for the Health Tourism sector and is funded by the European Commission. It combines international research teams from the University of Macerata (Italy), the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, Maastricht University and the University of Lisbon in Portugal and is an example of triple helix cooperation.

Developing healthcare tourism in Portugal

The healthcare tourism market in Portugal is a relatively unexplored market that provides many opportunities and is considered a strategic priority for Portugal’s tourism sector. As part of the drive towards developing this market, the University of Lisbon is preparing the set-up of a ‘Health Tourism Living Lab’ in the Lisbon area.

Creating innovative business ideas

SSF’s workshop challenged PhD students from different fields in Medicine, Engineering and Social Sciences to create innovative business ideas for the healthcare tourism market in Portugal. In an intensive 2-week trajectory, SSF introduced the participants to insights into the healthcare and tourism markets, presented by leading industry experts. This was complemented by workshops in business innovation and Service Design. The focus throughout the whole trajectory was on creating innovative, user-centric business ideas in the healthcare tourism market that are ready to be implemented.

Sowing the seeds of innovation and entrepreneurship

The innovation and entrepreneurship school was not just about exploring market opportunities and generating immediately applicable innovative business ideas. The longer-term goal of the workshop was to provide PhD students with a technical or medical background with an entrepreneurial and business attitude.

Interactive development

To achieve this, the school applied a whole range of interactive training and educational methods. Participants worked in multidisciplinary teams on the development of a business idea through workshops, presentations, examples, coaching and interactive discussion. The participants were guided through the development of their business idea by Carmen Vonken and Sabine Janssen, two experienced SSF-project leaders, and Dr. Dominik Mahr, Scientific Director of SSF.

Double Diamond

Lectures by experts from the industry provided deep insights into the market, and were complemented with user research and desk research by the participants themselves. The trajectory followed the Double Diamond methodology, rooted in Design Thinking.

Understanding the context

The first days focused on getting a broad understanding of the context through presentations by representatives of the Alhtour project, by successful start-ups in the healthcare tourism market and two successful corporate companies active in the hotel industry and healthcare brokerage. Participants performed desk research to discover main trends, understand the competitive landscape and identify best practices in the healthcare tourism market, in Portugal and at a global scale.

Gaining user insights

After understanding the context in which their new business ideas would be operating, the participants were challenged to gain user insights by interviewing and observing customers, but also by acting as customers themselves to experience firsthand the frustrations and difficulties of customers looking to find medical or wellness treatments in a touristic setting. Using different design thinking methodologies and tools, participants gained a good understanding of their target customer and the customer journey.

Creative ideation

In creative ideation rounds, the participants defined different user-centric ideas for a start-up business, building on the user insights from their research (the design challenge). During the break in between the two weeks, the participants had the opportunity to  validate their startup ideas with customers and staff of a well-known hotel chain in Portugal.

Designing the solution

The second week focused on designing the solution by prototyping the business idea and developing it into a concept that is both feasible and viable. Business models were developed and participants were challenged to create an implementation and launch plan for their business.

Pitching the results

During the final day, the three teams pitched their business ideas to a professional jury panel of investors. After the pitching session, the jury praised the participants for their enthusiasm, innovativeness, drive to make an impact and their ability to go beyond their comfort zones.

A lasting impact

The trainers were very happy with the level of commitment, the learning curve and the three business ideas the participants delivered at the end of the two weeks. An even more important result is the lasting impact in the form of a broadened mind-set, and the drive to think and act more as entrepreneurs. The toolbox and methodology provided in the workshop enable the participants to integrate this expanded mind set into their working practice.

The business ideas

A virtual wellness companion that recommends personalised wellness holiday based on user profiling, with useful guidance throughout the customer journey for healthy restaurants, spas and relaxed activities based on personal wishes…

A health village that provides the best orthopaedic treatments and lets you recover optimally by providing you with all the services and facilities you need in one location, while enjoying a great holiday with your family, in the sunny climate of Portugal…

A personal mentor that helps you quit smoking, deal with your burnout, or lose weight and who creates your personal package of medical treatments and supports wellness activities in a hassle-free, relaxed environment…


“Summer School taught me how to apply agile tools, which allowed me to develop a user-centred response based on the user’s needs and projections in a short space of time.
I am happy that the tools I learned can be applied to personal projects/projects, which allows me to contextualise the market context and position the service or product in a conscious and thoughtful way.”

Hugo Simao (participant Innovation and Entrepreneurship school)

“I learned the tools to develop a business idea and what are the steps that we need to take in order to make it possible. I also learned that it is not only possible but very enriching to work with people with very different backgrounds to build up an idea. At the course we learn by doing and at the end we felt that we could really design a business without knowing anything before. These tools can be very important for my career because in the future I would like to become an entrepreneur in the health sector.“

Filipa Novais (participant Innovation and Entrepreneurship school)

“It was really valuable to see that participants with a non-business background were able to design innovative and feasible business ideas in just two weeks, helped by design thinking and lean-start up tools. Bringing together insights from experts in the healthcare and tourism industries and participants with backgrounds in medicine and social sciences, provided a fertile environment for stimulating innovativeness and to kick-start feasible and user-centric business ideas. It have been two very exciting weeks, and it was inspiring to see the enthusiasm with which the participants have brought their ideas to life, and convinced the professional jury panel of the value of their business idea. I am very much looking forward to developing more schools like this in the future.”

Carmen Vonken (Project Leader Service Science Factory)

Make Service Innovation work for you

Carmen Vonken is an experienced project leader with UMIO’s Service Science Factory, who leads multidisciplinary project teams to innovative service solutions, and facilitates workshops in service design and innovation trajectories. Contact Carmen to find out how to make Service Innovation work for you.