National employee wellness month

4 cost-effective ways Houston startups can champion employee health and wellness

Here are some ways to encourage health and wellness in the workplace without breaking the bank. Tom Merton/Getty Images

Apple and healthcare provider Aetna announced earlier this year the two industry giants are collaborating on a new app, Attain. The wellness app, available both for the iPhone and Apple Watch, rewards users who achieve certain health-focused goals such as getting more sleep, meditating, or even receiving their annual flu shot.

Today, companies are increasingly leveraging similar health and wellness goals and reward programs, if not this very initiative. In fact, the United States' workplace wellness industry is valued at nearly $8 billion.

This hefty price tag encompasses massive corporate health and wellness programs such as that of Google, which offers its employees benefits such as massage services, physical therapy, onsite health care, community bikes and even guitar lessons to promote mental health. However, for most companies, building an onsite health care facility or having your own personal masseuse at the ready to release the knots in your neck and back is a bit out of the price range, we'd say.

For those companies, including startups operating on a tight budget, most just want employees to experience less work-related stress and live happier, healthier lives. In honor of National Employee Wellness Month this June, here's how startups can implement budget-friendly health and wellness programs into their companies.

1. Utilize tech in wellness challenges

Fancy equipment is not necessary for an effective corporate health and wellness program. Instead, try offering employees Fitbits, a budget-friendly option, as part of their benefits package, which they can then use to track their daily activity. To leverage the Fitbits to create intraoffice challenges, offer employees incentives for health goals such as the most activity or the most seven-hour nights of sleep each month.

My company that I coach for, Orangetheory Fitness, also features its own brand of wearables, the OTbeat, which tracks workout activity such as calories burned, steps, distance and splat points (Orangetheory lingo for when you achieve excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). I see friends, coworkers and even complete strangers compare splat points — something employees could also use as a friendly form of competition.

2. Hand out workout passes that give employees an hour off work to exercise

This is the real-life version of Monopoly's "Get Out of Jail Free" card. One of the major reasons I see people fall out of touch with Orangetheory is because they don't have enough time to work out. An extra hour or two out of the workday could be all it takes to motivate your employees to get active.

In fact, most gyms and fitness classes offer corporate discounts to employers. I'm seeing more and more companies sign up for a corporate membership, especially since health and wellness in the workplace is becoming much more important.

3. Host group health and wellness events

Another initiative idea that's cut from the same competition cloth: Cooking contents. Host a lunch where staffers bring their favorite healthy recipe. Then, have employees vote on the most delicious option.

You can also implement health and wellness in other company events such as employee 5Ks and team-building exercises such as weekly team outings to a local fitness class. These would be ideal opportunities to dole out those workout or lunch passes.

4. Try "deskercising"

Like most successful companies, it takes a lot of sweat, blood, tears — and often countless hours at a desk — to see the fruits of your hard-earned labor. Today, a sedentary or inactive lifestyle, which most likely consists of sitting at a desk with little to no physical activity, has been linked to a number of chronic diseases, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, as well as increased feelings of depression and anxiety.

While deskercising (i.e. the combination of sitting at your desk and exercising) doesn't quite measure up to a full-on workout, it has similar effects, including improved health, physical and mental. Squats, chair dips, shoulder raises and even frequent walks or breaks from the desk can have a significant impact on employees' health and work productivity.

Whether you implement one or all these programs, it's important to remember companies — whether they're a small startup of five or an established corporation of many — can implement health and wellness initiatives.

It's not the program or the money invested that makes corporate health and wellness initiatives effective. At the end of the day, the efficacy of any health program comes down to the company its willingness to prioritize the holistic health and wellness of its employees.

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Charlotte Morales is Orangetheory Fitness's San Felipe head coach.

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Building Houston

 
 

Panelists from the University of Houston and Houston Methodist discussed tech transfer challenges and opportunities for academic innovators. Photo courtesy

Groundbreaking and disruptive innovations across industries are coming out of research institutions, and their commercialization process is very different from other startups.

An expert panel within Technology transfer discussed some of the unique obstacles innovators face as they go from academia into the market — like patenting, funding, the valley of death, and more.

Missed the conversation? Here are eight key moments from the panel that took place at the University of Houston's Technology Bridge on Wednesday, May 19.

This event was hosted by InnovationMap and University of Houston.

“If your technology can immediately impact some industry, I think you should license out your technology. But if you think that the reward is much higher and does not yet match something in the industry, you should go the high risk, high reward path of doing it yourself. That’s a much more challenging. It takes years of work.”

— Hadi Ghasemi, co-founder of Elemental Coatings and Cullen associate professor in the department of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, says on how tech transfer usually happens via those two pathways. Ghasemi explains that it also depends on the academic's passion for the product and interest in becoming an entrepreneur.

“There’s a mismatch in that you can have a really clinically impactful technology but still not have money to develop it into a product.” 

— Rashim Singh, co-founder of Sanarentero and a research assistant professor of pharmaceutics at the University of Houston College of Pharmacy, says on the different priorities from within academia and within the market.

“What I’ve seen is if you know you want to patent something, tell the right people early. Make sure you have the right players involved. Our tech office already has venture, Pharma, etc. partners that can help with the patent process.”

— Ginny Torno, administrative director of innovation and IT clinical systems at Houston Methodist

“You don’t need to be fully transparent about your technology. As a company, you need to have some secret sauce."

— Ghasemi says on the patent and paper publishing process. Academics are used to publishing their research, but when it comes to business, you need to hold some things close to the chest.

“One of the most important piece the UH Tech Bridge has provided is the wet lab space to develop these technologies a little further toward commercialization. … Wet lab is very precious space in Houston specifically because there isn’t much here.”

— Singh says on how important access to lab space is to the entrepreneur.

"“You’re starting to see more and more organizations that have innovation arms. ... There are a lot of focus on trying to make Houston another innovation hub, and I think there is more support now than even a few years ago.”

— Torno says on what's changed over the past few years, mentioning TMC3 and the Ion.

“Try to serve private capital as soon as possible. The grant money comes, and those are good and will help you prove out your technology. But once you have private money, it shows people care about your product.”

— Ghasemi says as a piece of advice for potential tech transfer entrepreneurs.

“The biggest gap is to arrange for funding — federal, private, etc. — to support during the valley of death.”

— Singh says on the struggle research-based startups, especially in drug discovery, faces as they fight to prove out their product and try to stay afloat financially.

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