Editor's Spotlight: Startup Focus

Launching a startup within a startup: Digital health entrepreneur expands from Europe to Asia

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

Atlas Biomed microbiome and DNA test kits
Atlas Biomed microbiome and DNA test kits

Related tags Startup company Gut health microbiome personalised nutrition

A London-based personalised nutrition startup founder explains the huge challenges and opportunities in expanding into Japan - a largely untapped market primed for personalised and preventative health tech.

After first speaking to NutraIngredients​ about his startup back in November 2019, Sergey Musienko, CEO and founder of Atlas Biomed, has expanded the digital health business into Japan, a country ripe with curiosity in preventative health solutions but which he says is largely untouched by other international firms in this space.

“In Japan, there are no other strong international players in DNA and microbiome testing. Any other companies like this are local," ​he explains.

“It’s understandable others haven’t expanded into this market – not only do you have the huge language barrier but it’s also a completely different culture, with different perceptions, tastes and health and privacy policies. Thankfully, I had already been learning the language for the past six years so that at least helped with the conversations that needed to be had."

He explains why he felt such a challenging new market was the right next step for his four-year-young business which claims to be the only company in the world offering both DNA and microbiome testing kits for a holistic picture of health.

“It’s a market that is well worth the effort, in my eyes, as the audience is extremely receptive to the sort of service we offer.

“In Europe, you still have to explain why preventative health is so important and often consumers are uncertain about the benefits of knowing how

sergey musienko 1
Sergey Musienko

their DNA impacts their health. In Asia, for one thing they are very interested in technology and secondly they want to know as much as they can about their personal health data - the idea of making nutritional changes to avoid illness and extend life is very appealing.

"On top of this, it's is a rapidly ageing market and so healthy ageing is of huge interest, only adding to the fascination with preventative health solutions."

Musienko explains that to be successful in such a different market, companies can’t simply translate their service into Japanese and expect it to fly – the audience requires a dedicated team and a re-written communication strategy.

“It’s like launching a startup within a startup. We created a localised independent IT structure for Japanese users and ensured every aspect of the site and the app were relevant for this audience, from the imagery and messages to the food algorithms.

“On top of making everything user friendly, we also had to speak to the local ministry of health and the local legal teams to make sure we were completely compliant.

“We also had to change our marketing and communication strategy to target this new audience. Of course, it’s much easier to understand an audience when you are immersed in that community; thankfully we had already set up a small team and an office in Tokyo before lockdown otherwise none of this would have been possible.”

Tracking the whole package

Earlier this year, Atlas Biomed launched a phone app allowing people to discover what foods will best improve their gut health with the simple snap of the camera.

The key idea behind the service is that it helps consumers to understand for themselves how their food choices impact their gut health.

The app also allows the customer to take a photo of their meal and the special algorithm identifies the specific ingredients in the meal. Based on the user’s latest microbiome test results, the app provides a scoring system for each ingredient, showing how beneficial they are to the user’s microbiome composition.

Musienko explained at the time of the launch: “There are a lot of apps out there that help people track their calories or their macros but this is the first to concentrate of fibre as well as some vitamins, polyphenols and sugar which also have an impact on microbiome composition.

“This will help people to discover the best fibre sources for them and it will help people to diversify their diets. We really want to help people to live healthy lives for longer and as soon as you have a basic understanding its quite easy to stay on track – it’s like learning to ride a bike!”

Looking to the future, Musienko said the firm is working with researchers who are looking to discover if there is a link between the microbiome and COVID-19 severity. 

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