Oliver Harrison, CEO at Koa Heath: Redefining Mental Health Through Tech

Koa Health is a digital mental healthcare provider. Our ambition is to redefine care by offering a range of personalised mental health solutions, all of which are backed by science and designed to improve user wellbeing. We recently spun out of Telefónica’s innovation facility following a €14.1 million Series A fundraise from Ancora Finance Group and Wellington Partners. We spent four fantastic years at the facility, conducting extensive research and trials which helped us to not only finesse our solutions but also build out our product roadmap for the future.

Our approach is centred around building breakthrough technologies for high-quality, accessible and affordable care. Unlike many other digital healthcare providers on the market, we conduct comprehensive research on all products, whether it’s testing concepts or evaluating usability with a diverse range of users. All of our products are evidence-based and we validate their effectiveness through randomised control trials, including pivotal clinical trials to secure regulatory approval where necessary. Our algorithms are also audited by third parties to help eliminate bias. We truly believe that combining scientific research, ethics, and meaningful innovation for real people is the way forward.
Koa Health | Redefining care with digital-first solutions grounded in  science

How did you come up with the idea for the company?

I’ve worked in the health sector for over 20 years, starting as a practising medical doctor before learning health technology at McKinsey, then becoming the Director of Public Health for Abu Dhabi. Throughout my career, I’ve been alarmed by the worsening state of mental health across the world. According to the World Health Organisation, nearly one billion people worldwide are living with a mental disorder, and this is only going to get worse as a result of the ongoing pandemic. In fact, a recent study by Oxford University found that one in five people who test positive for COVID-19 are diagnosed with a psychiatric condition within the following three months.

I believe that the key to addressing the growing mental health crisis is digital health. It’s that belief that drew me towards Telefónica Alpha, the perfect incubator for building Koa Health (then Alpha Health). We assembled a team of leading researchers, engineers and designers, striving to create groundbreaking technology capable of delivering improved mental health care for all, plus an amazing set of international clinician-academic collaborators.

What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?

My biggest piece of advice to any budding entrepreneur is to fall in love with the problem that you’re solving, not any particular solution. Too often I see great entrepreneurs fixated on a particular piece of technology, and trying to fit problems to their solution.

Never assume that you know it all, no matter what your background is. Crowdsource opinions, partner with expert organisations and get a diverse range of people working on your product, who will each offer different perspectives. This collaborative approach is the spine of our success to date.

And while naturally, your focus will be on building a successful business, don’t put your own mental health on the backburner. The economic climate is challenging right now, especially for an entrepreneur taking their first steps. Make sure you have the skills and practical tools you need to manage stress and avoid burnout. Whether it’s regular exercise (I love open-water swimming), hobbies (I love cooking and sharing food with friends) or regular meditation, find what works for you and make it part of your routine.

What can we hope to see from Koa Health in the future?

Over the coming months, we’ll be launching a targeted set of mental health solutions, which will cover the spectrum from digital wellbeing to digital therapeutics. Our roadmap has only been made possible through a recent Series A investment from Ancora Finance Group and Wellington Partners, as well as the continued support of Telefónica.

We’ll also continue to work with employers in the UK to help them support their teams with Koa Foundations, our tool designed to help organisations improve their mental wellbeing. Foundations offer users a library of evidence-based activities to improve user wellbeing including tackling stress, sleeping better, aiding relaxation and positive thinking and boosting self-confidence. The app is already in use by dozens of companies with a combined employee population of over 250,000, and we’re delighted with its progress.

As part of our continued development, we will further increase investment in clinical trials and scale R&D to further personalise our products. Also critical to our future success is continuing our collaborations with leading organisations across the sector. We’ve already worked with Massachusetts General Hospital (the #1 US-ranked hospital for both psychiatry and psychology) and the Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust. Most recently, we announced that we’ve been working with Janssen Pharmaceutica NV in the US to research the delivery of digital cognitive behavioural therapy for treatment-resistant major depressive disorder (MDD) patients, in conjunction with pharmacological treatments. We hope to announce many more partnerships – watch this space!