Koa Health – Case Study on applying an ethical lens to AI investments

Koa Health is a digital mental healthcare provider offering personalised mental health solutions backed by science to meet its vision of mental health for everyone.

Koa Health spun out of Telefonica’s moonshot factory last year with more than €30 million in funding in an oversubscribed Series A round. Prior to spin-out, Koa’s four years within Telefonica gave it the space to undertake research and run trials to build evidence-based products and develop the algorithms required to personalise those products.

Right from the start the Koa team recognised that success would only come if they created trusted and trustworthy products. Users need to trust that a product is recommending the right activities for them, otherwise they won’t use the product as intended and their mental health won’t improve. From an AI perspective, personalisation clearly requires access to at least some personal data, and so users need to trust that Koa will only ask for the data that it needs and steward that data well.

To create this virtuous cycle of data sharing supporting more personalised activities, leading to better outcomes, fostering higher trust and so on, Koa decided to build ethics into the core of its strategy. This started with setting out Koa’s own ethical principles and commitments, drawing on the work of many others but tailored to the needs of Koa Health. All of Koa’s work must consistently aim to do the following:


  1. Improve your health and happiness
  2. Put you in control
  3. Be understandable and transparent
  4. Secure your data
  5. Be accountable


In practice this means that Koa makes a concerted effort to ensure a well-researched evidence base backs up its products and services. Koa puts its users in control of their own experience as much as possible, using unbiased and understandable language. It also carefully protects personal information and privacy. And last but not least, Koa makes itself accountable via public discussion of how it’s delivering against its ethical commitments, as well as via external audits.

In the early days of Koa Health, there were real debates about how the market would react to taking such a strong ethical stance. As it has turned out, all of the worries about negative reactions have proved false. Many of Koa’s clients, from employers to hospital systems, specifically remark on the importance of Koa’s ethics strategy to them, with many referring to the external audits as an important sign of its authenticity.

This positive reaction extends to Koa’s investors. Given the prominence of ethics in Koa’s strategy, all investors were quickly able to understand its relevance to success, particularly in relation to using AI to drive personalisation. When coupled with the positive feedback from clients, Koa’s investors continue to be highly supportive of its ethics strategy.

You can learn more about Koa Health’s ethics strategy by visiting its Ethics page on its website.

Oliver Smith, Strategy Director & Head of Ethics