‘We can make a difference’: From Business School graduate to Covid mass testing innovator

Marta KalasMarta Kalas (MBA, 1992) has had an extremely varied career since graduating from CUBS, the then City, University of London Business School in 1992. Moving between working in a big corporation to freelance consulting and finally to working for the scale-up organisation Thomson Screening, founded by City, University of London. In the wake of the pandemic Thomson Screening have turned their attention to supporting mass Covid testing across schools and businesses.

Reflecting on her time at the Business School, Marta explains “I really think I massively benefitted from the course”. She recalls how useful the lessons she learnt at the Business School have been over the years, even the more surprising ones.

Just about all the career types you can have coming out of the Business School, I had them”

Since she left the Business School, Marta has had a very mixed career. She explains “just about all the career types you can have coming out of the Business School, I had them”. Despite graduating in the middle of a recession, Marta successfully landed a job with General Electric (GE) working in logistics and supply chain. Since then, she has primarily worked in the healthcare industry, ranging from turning around small clinics on the brink of bankruptcy to working for the NHS in a transformation capacity to “actually practice what [she] learnt at the Business School”.

Throughout her varied career, Marta has been able to reach out to the Business School to offer placements for students to complete their final projects. Marta explains how important it was for her to find a project which suited her during her MBA, and therefore whenever something suitable comes up she gives back to the students who were once in her position.

It has been a chain of coincidences, but that is the thing about life – you never know how it will turn out”

Marta’s career has come somewhat full circle since leaving the Business School: she is now the Director, Co-founder and COO of Thomson Screening, a company formed by City, University of London. Thomson Screening is a school and public nursing software company.

“It has been a chain of coincidences, but that is the thing about life – you never know how it will turn out”, Marta reflects. She found out about Thomson Screening when attending a networking event where companies pitched ideas to executives. She had no idea that a City company would be represented there. She explains, “I think certain institutions have a certain ethos and culture and they will attract a certain kind of people” and in this way her return to the University was natural. Prior to the pandemic, Thomson Screening’s board meetings were still held at the University, and Marta tells us how certain room and lecture halls gave her flashes of memories from her time as a student. Marta relishes being able to return to her alma mater in this way, stating simply “it makes me smile”.

It’s really exciting and really rewarding… we can make a difference”

Marta jokes that the impact of the pandemic on Thomson Screening has been almost like a classic Business School exam question about adapting a small company to unexpected change. “Public health and school nursing touch a huge number of lives with one tiny intervention” but they are tied down to a very paper heavy system. Marta’s company focuses on updating this process with a digital system, SchoolScreener®.

SchoolScreener-COVID-MANAGERWhen the pandemic broke out, they had to adapt. They realised there was going to be a very similar need for mass testing: “we knew how to make it simple, and how to make it easy and how to be secure”. In the summer of 2020, Thomson Screening made a successful bid to Innovate UK to develop their product to support test management, and they are now working with schools to support mass testing. The system allows schools to monitor parental consent, student status and, eventually, to upload bulk results to NHS Test & Trace. Marta explains that, in addition to schools, the product also works for care homes, businesses and universities giving it the potential to have a huge impact on society. “It’s really exciting and really rewarding. It’s a tiny thing, but it’s something we are really good at and we can make a difference”.

Don’t be afraid of taking your own footsteps and following your own path”

Marta has previously volunteered as a professional mentor for current students, “I am really glad every time City reaches out and pulls me back in, it’s a good feeling”. She reflected on how she would have benefitted from having had a mentor and made the decision to give her time to  provide students with career advice. Marta explains that while she enjoyed giving back, she also enjoyed learning about the student experience now and the whole process around mentoring: “it was just fun… it was a really nice community”.

Closing our conversation with some succinct advice, Marta says “find your own footsteps and don’t be afraid of wherever that takes you”.