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The past few years have seen the rise of corporate wellness programs to the point where there is now $8 billion being spent by employers on keeping their workers healthy and happy. That has coincided with the greater concerns over so-called "sitting disease," which is exactly what it sounds like: workers are getting sick sitting at their desks all day, thanks to their sedentary lifestyle.
The numbers are pretty staggering: roughly 85 percent of the work force, to the tune of over 100 million Americans, sit all day at work. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has labeled sedentary lifestyles the number one health threat in the U.S. due to their links to problems that include obesity, diabetes and lower back pain. Over $500 billion is spent every year to treat these issues. It's a rampant and expensive health crisis.
The main way that we've come up with combat these issues has been to incorporate desks into the workforce that encourage movement through out the day, such as standing desks and treadmill desks. One company in the space, iMovR, which designs and sells active workstations, including standing desks, desk converters, office treadmills and accessories, wants to not only develop these pieces of furniture, but to actually make them smarter, using them to glean large amounts of data in order to make workers healthier and more productive.
On Tuesday, the company announced that it will be developing a cloud platform for connected workstations, and that it is raising a Series A financing campaign on the equity crowdfunding platform SeedInvest to pay for it.
Founded in 2013 by Ron Wiener, the founder of eight previous companies including Earth Class Mail, EquaShip, SnapNames, PrintBid.com, Distribution Sciences Corp., Market Mechanix and Venture Mechanics, the idea for iMovR came from a personal place.
"We are the poster children for what happens when you spend your entire career in front of a computer and sitting in meetings and sitting in airplanes. For me, this had a very momentous impact when I started using a treadmill desk very early on, since 2009, so it’s about 10 years," Wiener said of himself and his co-founders in an interview with VatorNews.
"My last startup was the first company I’m aware of where we gave every employee access to a standing desk and a treadmill desk. I became a very big fan of getting people out of their chairs, being healthier and more productive, and, quite frankly, it was a fantastic retention tool. We literally had employees saying, 'Don’t ever let me go, I’ll never get another treadmill desk.' Times have changed, and they’re not as rare as they used to be, but I learned then that this really has a big impact on how people feel at work and feel about their jobs."
While there has been a rise in employee wellness programs, Wiener isn't too impressed with what he's seen. In fact he labels much of it as "corporate wellness theater."
"They give free Fitbits or free memberships to the gym, but there's all this spending that’s going on and very little of it has a proven financial ROI. The fundamental problem is your employer is sentencing you to the chair. Your employer is the one that’s making you sit in all these meetings," he said.
"It’s a huge mission trying to create awareness among employers that they can get tremendous ROI, better than anything else they’re doing in corporate wellness, by investing in active workstations for their employees. Their productivity will go up when they spend less time going to the chiropractor or home early with a sore neck and it improves retention and job satisfaction."
While iMovR started out being primarily a B2C company, selling to individuals who wanted a standing work station for their home office, now two-thirds of its revenue comes from enterprise customers, either from them buying it directly or the employee purchasing it from Personal Spending Accounts.
"We focused on enterprise because if we can capture a whole enterprise we have a much greater scalability in how many people’s lives we can affect. That has worked its way through on its own because somebody may buy a standing desk for their home and they work for a venture fund, and then the next month we get a call from the venture fund and then they tell their target companies, 'We just gave you funding, you should go out and get treadmill desks, here’s the company to call.' There’s a continuous, viral, enterprise-level thing going on," said Wiener.
The company now has over 10,000 customers including Amazon, HBO, Microsoft, Google, LinkedIn, The Washington Post, Disney and Princeton University, as well as government agencies that include The U.S. Army, the U.S. State Department and the Department of Justice.
Making smart workstations
Now that iMovR has established itself as a furniture manufacturer, it has its sights set on being something much bigger that: it wants to become a complete ecosystem.
The company started down this path when it recently called the Lander Desk, its first standing desk to have Bluetooth and a smartphone app. The desk automatically connects, via Bluetooth, to an app on the employee's phone and is able to determine now long that worker has been standing. The company is also planning to release its first treadmill desk with smartphone interaction later this summer.
Along with that technology, iMovR is also developing a mat that can compliment any standing desk through sensors that can more accurately determine how long an employee has been using the desk.
"We developed this device that sits under the standing mat, and it connects to your phone by Bluetooth, so whenever you’re near it, you can go desk to desk, it doesn’t matter, it knows who you are, know who’s standing there," said Wiener.
The sensors are also developed in a way that they can also combat potential fraud by making sure it's actually a person standing at that desk.
"It knows the difference between not just a chair leg or a box or a dog and person, but it’s got enough sensor points that it can even figure out, much like a Fitbit Aria scale, if there’s a limited number of people who use that workstation, it can probably figure out your weight from the footprint. It’s not a very precise weight measurement, but we have enough pressure points that it can detect it, basically for the purpose of fraud prevention. We anticipate that wellness departments will incentivize people to stand, and we want to make sure they’re measuring it accurately. It’s not voluntary data, like, 'I went to the gym four times last month,' but it’s actually being measured and then we know who it was and so we designed it with enough pressure points to be able to assert that this is a real person, it was this particular employee, who stood on this mat at these hours," he explained.
"Similarly for our treadmill desks, it’s basically a cardiogram. You plug the treadmill into device and it can detect, if it knows who you are, and you have to log in to use the treadmill or it won’t power up, it can connect to your Fitbit or your biometics and it can tell through the current load how fast you’re walking. So we have all the data on step count, calorie burn. An important part of that is we’ve been working with Mayo Clinic, who’s collected data on 4,500 users on treadmill desks, to actually come up with accurate calorie burn. We're the first company to attain the prestigious NEAT(tm) Certification from the Mayo Clinic for standing desks, treadmill desks and sit-stand meeting tables."
Between those two devices, the company is able to capture 95 percent of active workstation use.
For the user, almost nothing is required of them. All the employees have to do is download an iMovR app on their phone. They won't need any type of wearable to capture the information, though the app can sync the data up to their device as well if they have one. Otherwise, the app works in the background, collecting their data.
"If they’re using an iMovR desk they can sync up to the desk, they don’t even need to sync up to the mat, or they can sync up to both. Any time they enter or walk away from Bluetooth range, it’s going to disconnect them, but it’s in the background, they don’t have to launch the app, it will automatically connect. Once they’ve synced once, any time they walk up to it it’s going to know them. The whole point is you don’t have to take a step to record anything," Wiener said.
The ultimate goal is to take all of that collected data and use it to develop the iMovR Cloud platform, which will allow employees to sync their usage data to their favorite personal fitness track and to stay better motivated toward their own health goals. For the enterprise, their employers get improved productivity and presenteeism, improved retention, and reduced health care costs.
"What we’ve been doing in the last few years is working corporate wellness executives and trying to make sure we’re building the right thing. Showing them different consoles and data and saying, ‘What would you like to see?’ Figuring out how we’re going to connect all the wearable devices. Now it’s just going to be execution," said Wiener.
The standing mat sensor technology is still in development, and it won't be shipping until the iMovR Cloud is ready.
Crowdfunding a Series A
Building out the iMovR Cloud platform is going to take money, so iMovR is doing what any company is that situation would do: it's looking to raise a new round of funding to achieve that goal. The difference is that it has decided to go a different route for how to get that money; instead of going to traditional VCs, it has started a campaign on the equity crowdfunding platform SeedInvest to raise its $3.5 million Series A round.
There are a number of reasons why iMovR chose this alternative way of raising its new funding, not least of which is Wiener's own experience in venture capital as a previous founder and angel investor.
“I’ve raised a lot of venture capital in my past, and corporate and angel. This is my eighth startup since 1987 so I’ve developed a good jaundice against institutional venture funds. I still love angel investors, still love corporate investors, but too many angel investors have been trained to focus only on deals that have a chance of getting a big stock pop before they even generate revenue, much less profit, and they rely on a VC coming along or a quick acquisition by a Google or Microsoft," Wiener told me.
There's also the fact that, as he put it, "if the fund ends before you’ve gotten your liquidity event, you’re ended, at least your stock is worth less." Most importantly, though, the company found it hard to find investors because of its work in the hardware space, even though there is a software and cloud component as well.
"I didn’t think we’d be very fundable by VCs because they wouldn’t get past slide one, where they see that it’s a hardware company, to see that our goal as a company is really to build out cloud infrastructure and apps and collect very large data in this whole area. Ultimately, at the end of the day, for us it’s free software, it’s really a data play, but everyone I sent it to said, 'I don’t do hardware,' and hung up, so they never got to slide two," said Wiener.
Those two issues combined led iMovR to take advantage of provisions of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, which was passed in 2012, that allowed it to crowdfund the funding instead.
"You’re able to do the new thing which is you include investor perks. You know, you invest in this company, you get this free product or you get this discount on products, however they structure their investor perks, that’s one of the new things the SEC has allowed. You’re getting a customer with every investment and the first people who are going to invest are your existing customers. The first thing we’re doing is, of course, our shareholders and customers, over 10,000 of them, are getting first notification of this new round, and you end up with brand ambassadors, and you get customers who have the incentive to tell everybody they know about your product," he said.
"I have, in the past, pushed the envelope on the number of angel investors I’ve had in my VC backed companies, like Earth Class Mail we had 140 angels in, and $12 million in capital, before we raised venture, and I really believe in the power of having hundreds or tens of thousands of brand ambassador shareholders. We like that aspect of it."
Prior to this round, iMovR had raised $600,000 from investors that included the Barbara Corcoran Venture Partners AngelList Syndicate. The company is currently valued at $22 million and has seen $9.84 million in revenue to date.
The end goal
Ultimately, the goal for iMovR is to get every desk to be smart standing desk, even those not manufactured by the company.
"The coupler we’ve developed allows you to use it on any desk, not just ours. Obviously if you use our products you’ll get a little more data features than if you use other standing desks or treadmill desks, but they are universal and our intent has become to make sure that every active work station in the enterprise is put onto the IoT, into the cloud, so we can give holistic reporting to the company's CFO, and show the real ROI. Our whole goal at the end of this is accelerating the adoption rate, trying to catch up to Europe, which started this much earlier than we did, mandated it in several countries," said Wiener.
"We’d like to see as many enterprises as possible put our sensors on every active work station in the enterprise, connected all together, have the CFOs see data, not just reports of other companies done by the Mayo Clinic, but their company, their employee, here’s the benefit and making the conversion to never buying a sitting type desk again. Making a conversion to: 'We’re only going to buy active workstations going forward.'"
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iMovR is the leading innovator in the office fitness category. We design, manufacture and sell standing desks, treadmill desks, sit-stand tables, and a wide array of ergonomic accessories from standing mats to monitor arms.
iMovR's production is on-demand (think Dell), allowing us to offer tens of thousands of product customizations to each customer, and still ship every workstation out within one week of order. Are products are high-tech, featuring blue-tooth enabled smartphone apps, 3D-laminated surfaces, and the latest in linear actuator and controller electronics technology.
We're also building the 'iMovR Cloud' - allowing users to sync their at-the-desk activity (sitting, standing vs walking) with their personal wearable devices, and for enterprise customers to sync the data with their corporate wellness software platforms. Learn more about the iMovR Cloud development at www.seedinvest.com/imovr.
iMovR is part of Thermogenesis Group, Inc., which also owns SitLess.com and the Office Fitness Media Group.
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Joined Vator onI have founded and run eight investor-back tech companies since 1987, and been an angel investor since 1999. Starred in the TV series "Startup Junkies" (2008, viewable in Hulu, iTunes) when CEO of Earth Class Mail. Currently running iMovR.com