We caught up with Dr Jossy Onwude, co-founder & chief medical officer at Bold Health, to talk about how they’re helping people with chronic digestive conditions live a better life and their plan to take the US by storm…
Tell us about Bold Health
Pioneering digital therapeutics for gut health, Bold Health is on a mission to improve the lives of people with chronic digestive conditions and revolutionise the way they are treated. Backed by years of scientific and academic research, we develop patient-driven digital therapies for gut health leveraging behavioural medicine and data science.
Bold Health was founded in 2018, when I met my co-founder and Bold’s CEO Elena Mustatea. With my medical expertise and her business savvy, we teamed up to address this gap in the market. Now with a team of 9, we work across 3 continents with expert advisers and leading investors to shake up the gut health space.
Starting with irritable bowel syndrome, we created Zemedy to address the gap in care by using cognitive behavioural therapy. The app aims to help IBS patients self-manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Having launched in 2019, we are already seeing the results: we get amazing reviews from our users, while our community has surpassed the 10K mark and is growing daily.
By designing digital therapies that are both evidence-based and engaging, we empower patients to overcome daily challenges by activating behaviour change. We believe in a world where people don’t have to wait for expensive appointments that don’t always lead to expected results. We deliver the right, personalised care that is available to the patient whenever they need it, wherever they are.
How did you come up with the idea for the company?
I met Elena, my co-founder, about three years ago at the very first Zinc VC. Zinc is a mission-driven company accelerator that aims to solve the most important societal problems faced by the developed world. During the programme, it was obvious that we were a perfect match to found a company together. We both had the same goals and a shared vision to build a global healthcare company that solved the unmet medical problems.
The specific idea came about when we were exploring avenues and gathering insights on what to tackle first. It was then that Elena opened up to me about her personal experience with irritable bowel syndrome, which she developed due to her previous high-stress job. It wasn’t until after she went for a yoga retreat that she learned to manage it and freed herself from the condition. We felt there was something worth exploring, that could be scaled to the public.
That’s when we set out to investigate and get the necessary evidence to back the idea. Through partnerships and collaborations with top research groups around the world, we developed the right evidence-based intervention, making it the backbone of what Bold Health is today.
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How has Health Tech evolved in the last few years?
Over the past few years, there have been rapid advancements in the health tech space, which is reflected by the increasing number of emerging digital health companies and the influx of capital from private and public investors, the pharmaceutical industry and, in some cases, governments. Healthcare has seen a paradigm shift with the rise of digital health, which is likely to produce more health-conscious advocates and empowered physicians and patients.
We have witnessed the rise of Digital therapeutics, Bold Health being a prime example, and other companies alike. Digital therapeutics (DTx) deliver evidence-based interventions to prevent, manage or treat medical disorders and diseases. Whether as a standalone monotherapy or an optimisation to support current medication and treatments, these interventions are driven by high-quality software programmes.
Another trend is the digitisation of clinical trials. Having been made successful through the decentralisation to patient homes using new technologies, remote trials help in recruitment, communication, data capturing and patient monitoring – all within the comfort of patients’ homes.
Another exciting new area for everyone in the space is the emergence of digital biomarkers. Gathering data from mobile or wearable devices, digital biomarkers can detect or even predict health threats, such as heart attacks, making it a breakthrough in preventative healthcare.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to start a business?
The very first thing I’d say is that you have to pick a problem that is worth solving. Moreover, you absolutely must be passionate about solving this problem. The journey will be tough and you are bound to face a lot of roadblocks, but it’s your desire to solve that problem that will get you through and stop you from giving up.
Naturally, you won’t be able to do it alone, and the next thing is to find the right people to it with. Ego aside, you will have to find the people who are better than you – not the other way around – and maximise the skills and expertise you don’t necessarily have. Once you fill that gap, you will have a good base to get your business to its zenith.
Above all, you must be resilient – don’t let the occasional self-doubt overshadow your goals. We all go through the impostor syndrome and, when things get hard, you might not see the wood through the trees. But in the end, it all works out – you just have to maintain the willpower to keep going.
Lastly, especially for black founders like me: always believe in yourself and never, I repeat, never let someone’s opinion of you stop you from achieving what you have set out to do.
What can we expect to see from bold Health in the future?
Bold Health is currently based in London, but we have started our commercialisation efforts in the US, where we plan to build a team to drive our business development. We are also looking at exciting opportunities in other geographies and will explore them if they are convincing enough. Meanwhile, we hope to scale our team in the UK too, especially around research and development, tech, and clinical departments.
We know that healthcare is not a “one size fits all“ kind of space. At the same time, there is a string of similarities among chronic conditions, especially within digestive health. That’s why we created Zemedy as a base – a model that can be replicated across other digestive conditions beyond IBS. In the next four years, we hope to have at least four gastrointestinal-focused products, including IBD and GERD, across major markets like the US and the UK.