How digitisation can improve healthcare: An interview with Bloom Diagnostics co-founder Dr Angelica Kohlmann

Bloom Diagnostics is an innovative medtech startup whose sophisticated system allows consumers to take control of their own health. Its innovative hardware and software can identify a range of medical conditions using a combination of advanced biotechnology, cloud computing and scientific research. Through using next-generation technology and personalised data insights, Bloom Diagnostics applies machine learning to improve results and analyse data that may eventually help develop new therapeutics. 

Founded by Dr Angelica Kohlmann and Thomas Kupper in 2018, the firm is headquartered in Zurich and also has offices in Vienna. With a team of 70 employees, Bloom Diagnostics has plans to drive expansion across Europe and the USA.

We had the chance to chat with the co-founder of Bloom Diagnostics, Dr Angelica Kohlmann, to talk about how Bloom Diagnostics came about, the health tech sector and her take on its growth and what it means for medicine and patients. We also got to touch base on her career and how her vast professional experience has helped her build Bloom Diagnostics and scale it to a team of 70 in under four years. 

Before we dive in, let’s get to know you a little bit more and find out how Bloom Diagnostics came about? 

Personally, I have always been interested in the “new”, the “future technologies”, and “the step after the next”. Perhaps because I was born and grew up in a developing country, Brazil, perhaps also, as it was inherent in my family. So after my PhD in medicine, I started working academically in cancer research. I found out early enough that this requires a lot of patience (which I didn’t have – today I’m much better at it), and I was bold enough to change careers, moving to the pharmaceutical industry, where I went right into M&A and finance, to then join the Venture Capital world.

After some successes and major exits, I felt that the healthcare space had a huge need for change, for a shift to digital healthcare. So we founded Bloom, and from an investor, I turned into a founder.

It’s quite impressive how many hats you have worn in your professional career. You’re a doctor, researcher, investor, founder and advisor. How has your experience helped you build Bloom Diagnostics? 

You learn from every step you do. The medical knowledge and the passion for new technologies, but also understanding the world of finance helped quite a lot. The biggest learning throughout was the human factor. Identifying the right people, building the right teams, recognising what they need and what drives them is what makes the difference.

Historically speaking, health has always been relatively inaccessible because we had to go to the medical centre to get checked. Health apps are growing in popularity, and it might be that the pandemic has helped speed things up, but do you see a future in medicine where everything is much more digitised, and many more straightforward procedures can be done from home?

Governments globally are hardly coping with the increasing costs in the healthcare sector, yet, they are slow to digitise. I see digitisation as the only real option for advanced healthcare, meaning: better, faster, cheaper. Much is possible, but there is a lot of resistance to change. Bloom is helping to prove that people are capable of doing much on their own, as they are, e.g. with handling a computer. Who would have thought that a few decades ago? You don’t need to call a doctor, make an appointment, sit in the waiting room, explain what symptoms you have, get some blood drawn, and get a second appointment for feedback.

In most cases, you can have all that in 10 mins. This way, people are able to find out more earlier, being able to potentially prevent conditions. Bloom is building the software and intelligence to support this development. We see a future where people ask their app, test at home, and get e-prescriptions and medication shipped automatically. If they need, they can include a doctor via telemedicine. This is more reliable and effective, even if there is still some scepticism. Doctors and hospitals will be able to focus on more serious conditions, having more time for patients and being able to offer better quality.

According to Dealroom, around 400 startups worldwide focus on improving women’s health and wellbeing. If we compare it to other markets, 400 doesn’t sound like a big number. How do you see FemTech evolve in the upcoming years? 

Personally, I am not a big fan of FemTech in the sense that we need special attention for women, as we do for children, adolescents, males and other groups. Indeed, in the past, women were not considered enough in drug development or clinical studies. But this has already changed. Now, new technologies allow for more, for specific benefits for each group of people, as women, or even for individuals. Bloom’s Data Intelligence taps right into this space: It allows for personalised medicine, personalised analysis and feedback, and even allows for the development of better-suited drugs. This is a major step forward not only for women but for everyone.

As the co-founder of Bloom Diagnostics, what challenges did you face in the early days, and what are some opportunities you see in the market now that [Bloom Diagnostics] has been around for four years?

“Startup” stands for overcoming challenges. Only perseverance can make you win. During our early days, the challenge was to convince investors about the idea. We were extremely lucky to find strongly supportive investors, who understand that there are challenges ahead. We faced technical challenges (sorry to mention, but why did Theranos fail?), regulatory challenges and many others. We solved them and launched the first products some weeks ago. The next challenge is to grow a new market, which doesn’t exist yet. Certainly, COVID helped people better understand what self-testing means. The opportunity is huge and goes far beyond self-testing. What you see from Bloom now entering the market is what we worked at one or two years ago. Today, we are working on completely new features, unseen before. You have to think of the early days of a smartphone and of how it evolved. That’s how we see what we are doing. Another opportunity is that we have the first mover’s advantage. Finally, the US market represents the biggest opportunity and we plan to enter the US soon.

In 4 years, you have grown Bloom Diagnostics to a team of 70 people across Europe. What has the recruitment process been like, and what are the plans for the future?

The recruitment process is highly professional and consists of 3 stages for anyone wanting to join Bloom. After screening applications, eligible candidates move to stage 1, which focuses on a general fit, then stage 2, consisting of a written, technical evaluation and stage 3, with an extended interview, including a check about cultural fit. We have an extremely strong and committed People Team and a VP, Liz, who drives the process and was very successful in helping build not only a global top team with over 30 nationalities represented but also creating a culture of cooperation and kindness, which is hard to find elsewhere. This process will continue and the team will expand, reflecting the growth in Europe and the US. The plan is to continue investing in R&D and growth, also by adding new geographies.

The digitalisation of the health sector is starting to take off, and we can only expect it to grow from here on. What are some of the trends you think will thrive, and how will it change medicine in general (for doctors/nurses and patients)? 

The two main drivers for change will be: dramatically improved access to healthcare and the learnings from data intelligence. Data insights will lead to new therapies, disease prediction and prevention. This will affect all healthcare sectors, including doctors and nurses, who will be able to better focus on specific patients, and patients themselves, who can track, e.g. chronic disease from home. Overall, people will live longer and healthier lives.