Jersey City Startup Welnys Aims to Disrupt Corporate Wellness Programs
Photo: Heather Waibel is founder of Welnys Photo Credit: Courtesy Welnys
Heather Waibel is founder of Welnys | Courtesy Welnys

 Heather Waibel, founder and sole proprietor of the startup Welnys (Jersey City), has created a wellness program that includes a network of providers and software to monitor a member's participation and progress. Waibel self-funded her startup, which launched in May 2016 and released its first software product in February.

Using the unique key-performance-indicator software that Waibel developed, employers can measure their returns on investment in their wellness programs. The software is designed to operate centrally for large companies with a geographically dispersed workforce.

In an interview in February, Waibel said, “This is a turnkey wellness program for companies. To date, there is no such service on the market.” The service has been pilot-tested with PayPal, OrderUp and StraighterLine. PayPal and Stanley Black & Decker have become paying customers.

Waibel recounts how she got the idea for her startup:  “At PayPal, I was a UX project manager and later ran business operations for our product teams. While I was there, I traveled to our locations worldwide and noticed a discrepancy in what employees had access to from site to site. One location might have a very healthy meal plan while another only offered candy bars and chips. One location would have a full gym while another had a poorly attended yoga class in a cramped conference room. I felt there was a need for companies to manage their wellness programs holistically and centrally in order to ensure consistency and participation.”

Welnys provides a cost-effective network of fully insured wellness providers, such as personal trainers, yoga instructors, nutritionists, meditation trainers and massage therapists, she said. Also, there are boot camp packages that include a 12-week session with a personal trainer, massage therapist and nutritionist.

Currently, Welnys has 430 practitioners working in wellness programs in eight cities:  Jersey City, New York, Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco area. “We have the ability to quickly assemble a team of practitioners in any city nationwide,” Waibel said.

The program offers companies promotional materials for the wellness program. “Often, just letting employees know that wellness programs opportunities exist will promote participation,” she noted.

Additional features include dedicated phone support, complimentary substitute teachers and online payment. Online scheduling allows employees to see what classes are available and to book a class, as well as pay for the class or be put on the waiting list. Providers can see class rosters, and employers can see anonymous analytical data.

Citing a survey by the National Business Group on Health and Fidelity Investments, Waibel said that companies spent an average of $693 per employee on wellness programs in 2015. Citing a study published in Health Affairs, she said, “The [return on investment] on our wellness program can be up to $3 for every $1 invested. Welnys software can show that there is an expected 19 percent reduction in sick leave, and a 12 percent increase in performance and productivity by using a wellness program.”

Waibel is also fond of citing an Aetna study showing that wellness programs reduce stress as measured by cortisol levels. Reduced stress diminishes sick time and improves productivity. Mark T. Bertolini, chairman and CEO of Aetna, said on CNBC, “The increased productivity, along with reduced healthcare costs and lowered employee stress, yielded an 11-to-1 return on the program's investments.”  This added up to a savings of about $3,000 per employee per year.

Waibel is trying to reach Fortune 1000 tech companies with over 500 employees that are looking to improve or initiate a wellness program. In reference to a study conducted by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work, at Boston College, Waibel said that “63 percent of organizations offer a wellness program, and  8 percent plan to add one this year.” Waibel estimates the total size of this market to be $7.7 billion. For her startup, she’s preparing a seed round of approximately $700,000.

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