Pure Wellbeing, a new start-up founded by Conor Dolan and Alison Flynn, aims to help SME employers to boost productivity and engagement in their workforce by improving employees’ overall wellbeing.

“Irish employees are stretched to breaking point and wellbeing in the workplace is not being given the priority it deserves,” explained Dolan. “Employers report absences, productivity dips and lack of engagement while employees struggle with stress, long hours, busy commutes, sedentary routines and additional home-life pressures. So, it’s no surprise when IBEC reports that work absence costs Ireland Inc. €800 per employee per year.

“Clearly something needs to change and we’re offering a solution that works.”

“SMEs can face additional obstacles to implementing effective wellness programmes, such as those of space, infrastructure and economies of scale. This is really the issue that we are aiming to solve”

The Pure Wellbeing Health Programme assesses, monitors and targets 12 health risks, including lifestyle risks such as alcohol and physical inactivity, perceptual risks such as stress and low, life satisfaction, and biometric risks such as high cholesterol and high BMI.

Incorporating strength training that features balance, strength, core and flexibility exercises, participating employees get a wellness schedule designed specifically for them and delivered twice weekly for 30 minutes each time on a small-group basis with Conor and his team. Also, there is no cost to the individual as that is typically covered by the employer.

We asked Conor (CD) and Alison (AF) to fill us in on how it works.

What is the problem you are trying to solve and the size of the market you are addressing?

Man in check shirt talking with women in red blouse.

Conor Dolan of PureWellbeing explaining the programme. Image: Maxwell Photography

CD: The historical model in the area of health and wellbeing could be described as “individual responsibility” – all of the onus being placed on the individual. This model has largely failed and is in part responsible for the high levels of work stress, chronic illness, and physical inactivity that we currently see. Considering the scale of demands that many busy professionals face on their time and attention, this reality is not all that surprising.

AF: The Wellness model, which is one of shared responsibility between employer and employees, offers hope in resolving the situation. For many, participation in a wellness program at work makes maintaining health, fitness, and overall wellbeing realistically possible in a way that it might not otherwise be.

The wellness model is becoming increasingly accepted, but is probably more established at larger companies and multinationals. SMEs can face additional obstacles to implementing effective wellness programmes, such as those of space, infrastructure and economies of scale. This is really the issue that we are aiming to solve. Drawing on our experience and training, we have developed a programme format that is portable and flexible enough to bring to companies of just 10 or up to 100 (more, on occasion).

CD: Excluding micros, SMEs account for 40pc of the Irish workforce so it’s a very broad market. We are based in Dublin and will concentrate on the Dublin region for now, but that will be likely to evolve over time.

What is your core product and service about and how does it work?

Close-up of a machine that monitors health and fitness.

Pure Wellbeing Tanita scale. Image: Maxwell Photography

CD: Essentially our programme is about making key elements of a healthy lifestyle easily accessible. That means including both strength-based and cardiovascular exercise, healthy nutrition, effective strategies for stress reduction and periodic health screening.

The programme works through a Pop-Up Gym format, where we go on-site twice a week to deliver strength training sessions to participants, in small groups of two or three. These are half an hour in length meaning that people are back at their desk within a short period of time. The fact that they can do their session during the work day means that people aren’t staying late or coming in early to fit it in. These sessions include elements of strength, balance, core and flexibility exercise.

AF: Once a week at lunchtime we also do a stress reduction class, using mindfulness and related techniques which are easily used in daily life. This session and the daily techniques involved are really about practising to be deliberately and consciously present, which can have a great effect on reducing stress. The other main component of the programme is a comprehensive health screening process which everyone goes through at the start of their program. We screen for 12 common health risks, including things like cholesterol, glucose, blood pressure and perceptual factors.

We then monitor these factors over the course of the program and expect participation to lead to a reduction in these. The nutrition module is covered in the initial screening session and is reviewed with the person every six weeks, along with their overall satisfaction and progress within the program. It’s a pretty tight, seamless process that builds incrementally on what people can do at the outset, so that they make progress in a minimally disruptive kind of way.

How did you both come to work together on this?

Man giving a mindfulness class to a group of workers in meditation.

Conor Dolan of Pure Wellbeing with a mindfulness group. Image: Maxwell Photography

CD: We are long-time partners, and this is our first business venture as founders. We were both involved in the launch of the EducoGym franchise in Ireland, which has gone on to become a highly respected brand. At EducoGym we had lots of highly successful businesspeople attend who loved the gym program and the difference that they noticed it make. Of course when things got busy for them, they tended to go missing, which seemed like a pity. This kindled the idea of bringing something to the workplace which people could access no matter how busy they got.

I also found that clients appreciated the commitment on our part to delivering the results that they wanted. Even though Alison and I didn’t have any experience in starting a business, or in branding, marketing or even networking prior to this project, from experience we felt that there would be a demand once we could deliver client results. Thankfully that seems to be true!

What are your impressions of the start-up ecosystem in your region and in Ireland in general?

AF: We found an accountant specialising in start-ups, who looked after things like company registration which was helpful. Our branch of Bank of Ireland (Grand Canal) also has some facilities for start-ups. Other than that, we haven’t had a lot of contact with outside resources for start-ups as the business has taken off quickly with new clients and a lot of interest in what we’re doing.

Are you raising funding at present?

CD: Not currently. We have had angel investors to this point, so everything is in place as the business evolves over the next year or two.

What are the biggest mistakes or lessons you have learned so far?

CD: One of the big things we have learned is that people are willing to help, particularly if they are impressed with you and what you do. We have been truly taken aback by the support we have been given by other business owners and couldn’t have managed without it, to be honest. I imagine people remember what it was like starting out themselves and want to make it a bit easier if they can!

What advice do you have for fellow founders?

AF: It helps a lot to have experience in the field that you are going into before starting a business yourself. That’s something that we feel has stood to us and that’s probably the advice that we would give to someone thinking of starting a company.

What technologies or tools does your team use to stay agile?

CD: We have developed an extensive client monitoring database which tracks clients’ progress; outside of that we mostly use email. Neither of us are very app-oriented. Given that many of our clients are very tech oriented, we seem to be in the position of encouraging people to take a break from technology and spend some time being present and being active!

Main image (at top): Conor Dolan and Alison Flynn, co-founders of Pure Wellbeing. Image: Maxwell Photography

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Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 4 October, 2019

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