Markus Holzer of contextflow: “Healthcare is something that affects us all”

Integrity -> this is key. No one likes to be lied to or get presented facts in a twisted way. Honesty wins mid- and long-term and will get you to your desired end point the right way. As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had […]

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Integrity -> this is key. No one likes to be lied to or get presented facts in a twisted way. Honesty wins mid- and long-term and will get you to your desired end point the right way.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Markus Holzer.

Markus Holzer is the CEO & Co-Founder of contextflow, a Vienna-based company that develops deep learning-based tools to help improve radiology workflows. With a MSc in Computer Science and supplemental degree in Entrepreneurship from the Technical University of Vienna, Markus is responsible for the company’s operations and strategy, valuing transparency and open dialogue amongst teammates. Nothing makes him happier than spreadsheets and google shortcuts.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Like many people, I never would have imagined as a child my future career path to be what it is. I was intelligent, a bit of a nerd really, and I played ping pong and video games semi-professionally in my teenage years. So I guess you could say I was goal-oriented. I went to school for computer science. My journey towards entrepreneurship began while working as a Research Associate at the Medical University of Vienna’s Computational Imaging Research Lab. I was performing development work on KHRESMOI, an EU-sponsored project to build a multi-lingual, multimodal search and retrieval system for medical images and documents. Upon the successful completion of the project, I and my project partners decided to commercialize the technology, and we founded contextflow in 2016. Two of the co-founders already held full-time positions working as university professor and a third was an AI wizard, so it simply made the most sense for me to join as CEO. I may not have predicted I would be in this role, but it’s one I’ve grown to really enjoy…I am forced to push my boundaries and learn ALL the time.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

contextflow develops tools to help radiologists during their daily clinical routine. To understand why that is important, we need to discuss the status quo in radiology, which is: increasing workload and complexity of work but a worldwide shortage of qualified radiologists. That combination has led us to a state of constant delays, missed findings and high overtime or outsourcing expenses. That’s the macro-level, and everyone knows AI has a huge role to potentially fill when it comes to diagnostics. Currently, there are hundreds of companies providing automatic detection and quantification of a specific finding for a specific organ and a specific type of scan, which is great if that’s exactly what you’re looking for. But what if the patient has something else or even multiple findings?

What we do at contextflow is search for many disease patterns at once, so the doctor has a holistic viewpoint of the patient. Our core technology is a 3D image-based search engine (SEARCH), which helps radiologists with difficult cases by providing them reference cases, statistics and reference literature in one place within seconds. Our tools integrate into their current workflow, so it’s really a one-click platform solution. In that way, we’re reducing the time radiologists spend searching for information to help them with these difficult cases while improving confidence and reporting quality. Our general approach to detection is what makes us disputive.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early on, we were working furiously towards a grant deadline…only to find out that we were 2 days late because we noted down the wrong submission date. Make sure and double check that important deadlines are correct!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Mentors were and are an important part of our journey. They represent diverse industries: VCs, startups, science & radiology…One mentor in particular helped us in negotiating the very first contract with a university hospital including IP transfer. The wrong setup here could have been a complete no-go for venture capital investors. Another mentor was available for all the “stupid” questions one might have when funding a startup. Their experience helps to prevent simple mistakes.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

If I may be a bit rebellious here…there are more important things to focus on. If your sole motivation for launching your startup is to be “disruptive”, that’s a shallow goal. You may miss some fantastic opportunities that, while not revolutionary, are still better than the status quo and may even eventually lead to the creation of something revolutionary. You’ll also be at the effect of whatever self-proclaimed tech guru finds “disruptive” or not. It’s far more impactful to find a solution to a problem about which you’re passionate. In our industry, radiologists are facing increasing workloads and complexity yet shortages of qualified candidates. The current way of doing things leads to delays, missed findings and high overtime/outsourcing events. That’s why contextflow develops deep learning-based tools to improve radiology workflows. Some people will refer to AI in medical imaging as revolutionary; others will label it the natural progression of technology. Either way, there’s a problem with a solution, and that’s what matters.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Integrity -> this is key. No one likes to be lied to or get presented facts in a twisted way. Honesty wins mid- and long-term and will get you to your desired end point the right way.

Win — win -> always make sure both parties benefit from an agreement.

Understanding -> always keep in mind that you don’t know everything about an organization or a person, and their reactions or decisions can have very complex routes. Learning and understanding what’s going on in the background is often key to identify where the real challenge is hidden.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

Can you imagine if someone sent you a mass LinkedIN message asking if you want to buy radiology software? Sounds ridiculous, no? And yet it happens every day. Lead generation is very personal in healthcare. We have worked years to develop relationships based on trust…under normal circumstances, in-person events played a key role because showing up consistently is the number one way to build that trust. Social media and communications is an extension of that…simply another way to show up consistently for your qualified audience. For contextflow, networking, hiring individuals who already have extensive contacts and narrowing our focus for leads have proven the most successful strategies for generating high-quality leads.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Currently our tools detect disease patterns, but we are working towards detecting disease-level detection. And if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that detection is not enough…you have to be able to predict your patient’s prognosis, meaning likelihood of hospitalization, mechanical ventilation, etc. We develop tools for radiologists alongside radiologists, so everything else is up to them!

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

There are many resources, podcasts or books I consume that are inspiring me. one that stands out is “The Big Five for Life”, as it tackles the core setup of an organization including its vision, values and how people work together. Setting up a work environment where people are engaged, motivated and supportive is key to build and scale a business. As the only constant is change, it implies that we are all on a journey towards a joint goal or vision. Each individual is part of and has an impact on that journey. I’m trying my best to implement these concepts at the core of contextflow, leading to a unique and healthy work environment that enables employees to grow and create consistent work output.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you have to drive people that hard to do their job, then you’ve either got the wrong people, or you’ve got the right people doing the wrong job.” ― John P. Strelecky, The Big Five for Life

Hiring the right people can make or break your business. What a cliché. But it’s so true! I think of Mr. Strelecky’s quote with every new hire and ask myself, “Is this person a good fit for the position AND is this position a good fit for this person?” And this questioning doesn’t stop with the interview…it continues throughout the employee journey. It’s crucial to periodically check in with your employees and ask them what they like and don’t like about their jobs as well as what else they would like to be doing. People are not static; their jobs shouldn’t be either.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Healthcare is something that affects us all: its quality (or lack thereof), its accessibility (or lack thereof), its affordability (or lack thereof), etc. Heathtech, then, is the perfect sector for those wanting to make a global impact. Because everyone has been, is currently, or will be in the future a patient. And when the worst day comes, you will want fast, reliable, effective diagnosis and treatment without having to worry about how much it is going to cost. The universality of the health requirement is something that can bring us together and push advancements forward.

How can our readers follow you online?

All our latest updates can be found on our website (contextflow.com) and our social media (LinkedIN: contextflow, Twitter: @contextflow_rad)

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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