By Anna Lardinois, Startup Storyteller
Britt Gottschalk, the founder and CEO of Geno.Me, is an accomplished, innovative business woman at the helm of a company that is already creating “unicorn” buzz in Milwaukee.
Geno.Me made headlines in 2021 when the company became an early investment of Gateway Capital and committed to relocate the biotech startup from Madison to Milwaukee. The company created software that allows people to sell their health and wellness data to medical researchers in a safe transaction that benefits both parties and will ultimately accelerate the development of medical science.
As she eagerly prepares for the Geno.Me Public Launch Party on September 28 at Saint Kate-The Arts Hotel, she is reflective about her journey into entrepreneurship.
Gottschalk, who is currently penning her first autobiography in a planned series, wants people to know how she created the opportunities that led to the launch of Geno.Me.
She grew up in a duplex on 55th and Lloyd with her extended family. She was unaware her family was unique until she began attending Milwaukee Public Schools.
“My dad is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white-looking German guy and my mom is a dark African American woman whose roots trace all the way back to Nigeria,” she said. “I was the only mixed kid anywhere.”
Gottschalk said she developed her “sense of self” by coming to terms with how people perceived her and her heritage. She felt social pressure to change who she was. Her peers critiqued her hair, speech patterns, and everything else they deemed to be different. Rather than shrinking from the pressure, Gottschalk embraced the attention and turned critics into friends.
Ambitious from the start, Gottschalk credits her dad for her work ethic. “My dad comes from that hard-working, blue collar, German root that we have here in Milwaukee. I think we have some of the hardest working people in the world here,” she said.
She had an entrepreneurial spirit since childhood; she manned lemonade stands, sold items from her garage, and became the top snack seller at her school by reselling items from her family pantry, until her mother discovered what she was doing and put an end to it.
Her background taught her about hard work, but also instilled an aversion to risk-taking.
“I was taught ‘why would you start your own business?’” she said. “That is not job security. Coming from that blue collar background, I learned you work for someone, you move up the ladder, and then you are always going to have food for your family to put on the table.”
The pandemic caused her to rethink this advice.
She began an MBA program with the intention of going into executive change management. She discovered the financial benefits of consulting while in graduate school. After graduation, she immediately began working as a consultant. While she found the work profitable and full of useful business connections, she also observed the environment was unwelcoming to minorities and women.
It was then she determined she was ready to launch her own business.
She recalls thinking, “I can do better on my own. I’ve always had a penchant for solving big problems. I’ve always been fascinated by innovation, so I started my own consulting firm in 2020 to help companies manage the transition into remote work.”
She enjoyed running her own consulting firm but yearned to create something unique and sustainable that would allow her to work with technical teams[BG1] once again. She began to take meetings with business leaders and influencers to get a sense of the big challenges businesses are facing to learn how she could develop a solution.
“I asked, ‘what is being overlooked right now?’ Healthcare has always been somewhat of a black box,” she said.
Healthcare is where she found the opportunity she’d been seeking.
She researched the biotechnology market and read The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee.
“I think there is something here,” she thought. “I’m not seeing a lot of information on having a comprehensive digital health profile that is bridging environmental health data with what we’ve inherited in a simple way.”
She wondered, “Could it be this simple? Could we just link this information? There are over 26 million people who have 23andMe reports. I am one of them. These tests provide so much insight on factors that could potentially impact my health.”
Gottschalk built a business plan around the idea based on the total addressable market and the value proposition. She shared the plan with strategic colleagues in the biotech market and received an enthusiastic response. Soon after, Geno.Me was launched.
Things moved quickly from there.
“We were informally pitching starting in August and September (of 2021) and we were able to close our funding round for $500,000 by the end of November,” she said. The majority of that funding came from Gateway Capital Partners, led by Dana Guthrie, with the remainder coming from angel investors.
“The progress we’ve been able to make between then and now is monumental,” Gottschalk said.
Geno.Me launched its beta product in March and will debut the first version of the software at the Public Launch Party on September 28.
Gottschalk describes the key customers of Geno.Me data as organizations in the field of “precision medicine,” which includes pharmaceutical development and other biotech companies that heavily rely on medical research.
“That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of supplementary disciplines that this is going to be useful for. For example, when you go to the dentist, there is value in you being able to take your medical health profile to them, which they previously would not have been able to gain access to,” she said.
Gottschalk states this sharing of data will not only help patients receive better care, but also provide medical researchers with more accurate data that comes from more diverse populations than are routinely gathered.
All of this is positive for the advancement of medical science .
Aspects of this data are already being sold. Gottschalk gives the example of GlaxoSmithKline purchasing key genetic data from 23andMe.
Gottschalk wants to put the power back into the hands of the people who generated the data.
“I believe that it’s your data — it’s a commodity, it’s a currency, it’s a product like anything else and you should be getting paid for it, because it’s yours,” she said.
This is where Geno.Me is cultivating a new approach to the business of medical data. Those generating data, called “contributors” by the company, will have the opportunity to anonymously share genetic reports and electronic medical records, and then receive cash each time their data is purchased by medical researchers.
The need for this kind of medical information is fueled by a multi-billion-dollar health research industry that requires extensive testing. Geno.Me will offer data that is not only more complete than has been offered before, but also more accessible for researchers seeking specific medical profiles than anything else currently available.
Gottschalk has opened the invitation to the Geno.Me Launch Party to anyone curious about the product. Leaders in the biotech industry, investors, and data contributors are all welcome to see the product in action and explore the database. To register to attend this free event, click here.
To learn more about Geno.Me, connect with the company here.