Backed by local and foreign money, Portugal’s healthcare and medical technology startups are hungry to go global

Frustrated at difficulties in getting a house call for an ill child. Overwhelmed by the intensive rehabilitation that a brother, recovering from a serious car crash, had to undergo.

Driven by these personal circumstances, a group of Portuguese engineers, economists, coders and biomedical scientists harnessed their expertise to come up with Knok, SWORD Health and PeekMed, three of Portugal’s most promising healthcare startups today.

At the end of last year PeekMed, the world's first 3D orthopedic software, received the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval as a medical device, paving the way for its commercialization in the country. Eyeing the same market is SWORD Health, whose Stroke Wearable Operative Rehabilitation Device (SWORD) Phoenix had gained the same clearance in 2017.

Meanwhile Knok’s Uber-like system for doctors – named the “most investable” startup at the 2016 European Business Angels Network Annual Congress – has expanded from Portugal to the UK and Spain, with plans to enter Italy next.

In September 2017, European life sciences venture capital investor Vesalius Biocapital partnered the Portuguese National Promotional Bank to invest in Portuguese life sciences companies, citing Portugal’s “exciting period of growth and global interest in its healthcare sector.”

Portugal’s healthcare and medtech startups have been among the brightest stars of the local ecosystem. Their potential for global application is clear from the international mix of investors they have attracted, ranging across private equity, venture capital, commercial and government entities from the US and Europe.

CompassList takes a look at eight Portuguese startups that are changing how healthcare will look and be delivered across the world.



Bringing an Uber style of service to healthcare, Knok connects patients with doctors, ending long waits at clinics and unnecessary trips to the Emergency Room.


Time constraint: Patients usually face long waiting times when seeking medical treatment

Accessibility issues: Patients requiring medical care may not have the capacity to visit a clinic or hospital

The ER overused, misused: Many patients there need only primary care, but can’t find a doctor past office hours


App connecting patients with doctors based on location. Consultations booked through the platform have no time limitation and are conducted at the location of the patient’s choice. Video consultations are available too.

SWORD Health

By replacing one-to-one human physiotherapy, SWORD Health’s technology enables rehabilitation treatments to be received anywhere, anytime, at greater intensity, lower cost – increasing access to therapy.


Costly, labor-intensive treatment: Performed only by professional therapists, physiotherapy is highly time- and labor-consuming and expensive.

Accountability, communication, record issues: Data from physiotherapy sessions aren’t automatically recorded and are difficult to retrieve, communicate between clinics.

Rising demand: Increasingly aging populations worldwide mean there has never been more demand for physiotherapy services.


SWORD’s Phoenix is a SaaS platform interacting with the patient via a tablet displaying performance and sensors strapped to the body part treated when a patient undergoes therapy. The sensors relay results and progress to the platform that are monitored externally by SWORD's team and reported to the physiotherapist.


World’s first 3D orthopedic software, PeekMed lets surgeons reduce surgery time by up to 20% and increases accuracy, helping hospitals reduce sterilization costs by 50%.


Complex operations, simple tools: Typically, the only data available to surgeons is a 2D image from a CT scan.

No bespoke, simulated planning: To date, simulating different surgery options, allowing their optimization, was not possible.


Patent-pending 3D reconstruction technology imports CT scan image results to generate a 3D model of the bone, which can be manipulated by surgeons. For osteotomy, fracture reduction and templating. Surgeons can also access pre- and post-operative images, planned procedures and materials information, and planning reports, all in a single software.


A one-stop task manager for nutritionists to interact with patients and track progress in real time.  


Inadequate patient adherence: Patients often struggle to break bad eating habits and get demoralised, not following through with the health plan. Inadequate and time lag in support from nutritionists due to current system of scheduled consultations.


A time-saving and holistic solution for nutritionists: Different responsibilities are combined into one platform, from scheduling to body metric analysis, meal planning and tracking supervision. Via a Nutrium app, patients are notified of dietary recommendations at meal times and can record their progress and fitness activity level. Such data is fed back to the nutritionist, who is kept in the loop about the patient’s progress even if face-to-face consultations are missed.  


Just one drop of blood is needed to get lab-precision test results in 15 minutes.


Physical comfort: Painless ‘finger prick’ procedure puts patients at ease, especially children, the elderly and those with problems having blood drawn from the vein.

Faster detection, early intervention: As test results will be ready on the spot, any result anomaly and treatment can be discussed with the doctor at the same consultation.  


Proprietary Spinit testing system comprises of a portable compact device and specialised discs similar to a DVD. Each disc is encoded with diagnostic features that can be customised for different blood analyses. The patient’s drop of blood is placed on the disc, which is inserted into the device. The device reads data off the disc and prints out the lab-quality results. Now boosting manufacturing capacity towards the goal of a commercial launch.

Straight Teeth Direct

Professional-quality teeth straightening treatment done DIY, with virtual follow-ups from a qualified dentist, lowering treatment costs by up to 70%.


Cost and convenience: Does away with repeated visits to the dentist, saving on time and money. Only works for those with mild to moderate cosmetic dentistry issues though.


A mix of DIY and tele-supervised dentistry: First, a home kit with DIY instructions to take dental impressions, which go to a lab to make customised invisible aligners. An app connects the patient with an assigned professional dentist, who remotely monitors the teeth straightening process from start to finish. Currently operates in the EU and the UK.


Wearable glove technology provides hand support for day-to-day tasks, increasing autonomy, and tracks user hand motion data for medical rehabilitation.


Wide applicability: Accident, demanding manual activity, ageing or illness can affect hand strength in all age groups.


A lightweight glove that has a built-in mesh of artificial tendons and sensors controlled by a nifty electromechanical system packed into a smartwatch-like device, to be worn on the same hand. Once worn and sensing user motion, the glove – aided by the electromechanical system – will magnify existing hand strength to carry out the hand movement. Data metrics such as strength, dexterity that are captured can be used by doctors to better understand the user’s state of hand motor skills.  

NeuroPsyCAD / NeuroPsyAI

Improve early and accurate detection of neurological disorders, such as dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Diseases.


Hard to detect, costly: As many neurological disorders have no clear-cut causes or markers, multiple tests – time-consuming and expensive – are often needed to form a diagnosis.

Growing old, growing risk: The scale and costs of treating such disorders increase in an ageing population.


Using AI to scan brain data and establish brain scan patterns – and thus risk probabilities – for neurological disorders. A patient’s brain scan is sent to NeuroPsyCAD’s cloud-based server, which analyses the scan and generates in real-time a report on the patient’s risk for a specific neurological disorder. Acts as a second-opinion quantitative tool for the doctor to establish a diagnosis. Company wants NeuroPsyCAD integrated into hospital diagnostic and e-patient record systems in Portugal, Europe, the US and Japan in the next five years.

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Edited by Bernice Tang


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