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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Houston health tech startup secures $27M in financing

money moves

A virtual health care and analytics provider startup has closed its latest round of funding for a total of $27 million in financing.

Medical Informatics Corp. closed a $17 million series B co-led by Maryland-based Catalio Capital Management and California-based Intel Capital. The financing also includes an additional $10 million in debt led by Catalio through Catalio’s structured equity strategy, according to a news release.

“We are excited to have had this round co-led by Catalio and Intel Capital," says Emma Fauss, CEO and co-founder of MIC, in the release. "Catalio brings significant financial and technical resources, while Intel Capital possesses strong operational and industry experience, and we look forward to continuing to leverage both firms’ expertise as we continue to scale.”

MIC created an FDA-cleared virtual care platform, called Sickbay, that gives health care providers and hospitals away to remotely monitor patients in any setting with vendor-neutral real-time medical device integration, workflow automation and standardization.

“We have seen an increased demand for our solution as our clients face significant staffing challenges and are looking for ways to amplify and empower their workforce," Fauss says in the release. "Some of the largest health care systems in the country are standardizing their infrastructure on our Sickbay platform while consolidating IT spend."

Other participants in the round included new investors TGH Innoventures, Tampa General Hospital’s innovation center and venture fund, and Austin-based Notley — as well as existing investors San Francisco-based DCVC, the Texas Medical Center, and nCourage, a Houston-based investment group.

As a part of the round, two individuals from Catalio will join the board at MIC. Jonathan Blankfein, principal at Catalio will join the board of directors, Diamantis Xylas, head of research at Catalio, will join as board observer.

“Health care systems’ need for high-caliber, cost-saving, data-driven technology is only going to increase, and MIC’s proprietary platform is perfectly positioned to address some of the most critical clinical challenges that health care organizations face,” says Blankfein in the release. “We look forward to continuing to support MIC’s strong team as it continues to deliver better outcomes for health care organizations and patients alike.”

Amid the pandemic and the rising need for remote care technology, MIC scaled rapidly in the past two years. The company will use the funding to continue fueling its growth, including hiring specialized talent — deep product specialists and client engagement teams — to support long-term strategic partnerships.

“One of the main barriers to advanced analytics in health care is the siloing of data and today there is a significant need for a platform to enable flexible, centralized and remote monitoring at scale and on demand,” says Mark Rostick, vice president and senior managing director at Intel Capital, in the release. “Medical Informatics is setting a new standard of health care by removing these data silos for health care providers of all sizes and transforming the way patients are monitored from hospital to home with real-time AI.”

Innovation pioneers on why Pumps & Pipes is so uniquely Houston

A Day of Discussion

Pumps & Pipes 2022, Houston’s premier innovation event, is rapidly approaching on December 5 from 8 am-3 pm at the Ion.

Leading up to this exciting event, InnovationMap spoke with several of the speakers representing various industries to ask them, "What makes Pumps & Pipes uniquely Houston?"

Here are their responses:

Dr. Alan Lumsden, chair of cardiovascular surgery at Houston Methodist and Pumps & Pipes founder:

“…What can we learn from one another? What is inside the other person’s toolkit? A lot of solutions are already out there but sometimes we don’t have the ability to see into their toolkit. This has become the driving force behind Pumps & Pipes throughout the last 15 years…”

Dr. Lucie Low, chief scientist for microgravity research at Axiom Space:

“‘Houston, we have a problem’ — everyone knows Houston as a major player in the aerospace industry as highlighted by this famous quote from Apollo 13. What people may not know and what is exciting to me about Houston are the opportunities for collaboration with other industries that can help drive our mission to build communities of healthy humans in space. With the largest medical center in the world right next to Johnson Space Center, Houston is a prime city for innovation at the intersection of medicine and space.”

David Horsup, managing director of technology at OGCI Climate Investments:

“The remarkable diversity of thought, culture, and expertise that exists in Houston creates an incredible cauldron for innovation. The city has been the leading light in pushing frontiers in energy, aerospace, and medicine for many years, and Pumps & Pipes is a powerful ‘node’ for some of the brightest minds across these industries to connect, collaborate, and innovate. I am extremely excited to see how Houston is pivoting to embrace the challenge that climate change is presenting, and the city will play a defining role going forward.”

Purchase tickets for Pumps & Pipes here and follow Pumps & Pipes on social media at LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube.

Houston startup founders report on clean energy tech efficacy

seeing results

A team from Rice University has uncovered an inexpensive, scalable way to produce clean-burning hydrogen fuel.

In research published this month in the journal Science, researchers from Rice’s Laboratory for Nanophotonics, in partnership with Syzygy Plasmonics Inc. and Princeton University’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, detail how they converted ammonia into carbon-free fuel using a light-activated catalyst.

The new catalyst separates the liquid ammonia into hydrogen gas and nitrogen gas. Traditional catalysts require heat for chemical transformations, but the new catalyst can spur reactions with just the use of sunlight or LED light.

Additionally, the team showed that copper-iron antenna-reactors could be used in these light-driven chemical reactions, known as plasmonic photocatalysis. In heat-based reactions, or thermocatalysis, platinum, and related precious (and expensive) metals like palladium, rhodium, and ruthenium are required.

“Transition metals like iron are typically poor thermocatalysts,” Naomi Halas, a co-author of the report from Rice, said in a statement. “This work shows they can be efficient plasmonic photocatalysts. It also demonstrates that photocatalysis can be efficiently performed with inexpensive LED photon sources.”

Halas, Rice's Stanley C. Moore Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was joined on the project by Peter Nordlander, Rice’s Wiess Chair and Professor of Physics and Astronomy, and Rice alumni and adjunct professor of chemistry Hossein Robatjazi. Emily Carter, the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and Environment, represented Princeton University.

“These results are a great motivator," Carter added. "They suggest it is likely that other combinations of abundant metals could be used as cost-effective catalysts for a wide range of chemical reactions.”

Houston-based Syzygy, which Halas and Nordlander founded in 2018, has licensed the technology used in the research and has begun scaled-up tests of the catalyst in the company’s commercially available, LED-powered reactors. According to Rice, the test at Syzygy showed the catalysts retained their efficiency under LED illumination and at a scale 500 times larger than in tests in the lab setup at Rice.

“This discovery paves the way for sustainable, low-cost hydrogen that could be produced locally rather than in massive centralized plants,” Nordlander said in a statement.

Earlier this month, Syzygy closed its $76 million series C round to continue its technology development ahead of future deployment/

Houston is home to many other organizations and researchers leading the charge in growing the hydrogen economy.

Earlier this year, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced he's determined to position the city as hub for hydrogen innovation as one of the EPA's Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs. Organizations in Texas, Southwest Louisiana and the surrounding Gulf Coast region, known and HyVelocity Hub, also announced this month that it would be applying for the regional funding.

And according to a recent report from The Center for Houston's Future, the Bayou City is poised to "lead a transformational clean hydrogen hub with global impact."