An Investment for Healthy Living

A social network that promotes healthier living through group support and motivation attracts a $5 million VC investment.
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This story appears in the December 2010 issue of . Subscribe »

Social Health: Brad Weinberg, left, and Rajiv Kumar.
Social Health: Brad Weinberg, left, and Rajiv Kumar.
Photo © David Lang

As classmates at Brown University Medical School in 2006, Rajiv Kumar and Brad Weinberg were bothered by the emphasis on treating disease vs. promoting wellness. As doctors, they routinely encountered patients who struggled with lifestyle modifications like losing weight, quitting smoking and boosting physical activity.

But the patients who were successful typically used their social networks--both interpersonal and virtual--for motivation and moral support. The duo saw an opportunity.

"There really was no initiative that was taking a broad focus on wellness and trying to scale a social approach to behavior change across a very large population," Kumar says.

Their business plan won competitions that gave them enough seed money to launch Shape Up the Nation in Providence, R.I. The site sells its services to insurance companies and large firms--typically those that self-insure--to motivate their employees to be healthier. Within the community, employees can challenge one another in areas such as weight loss and smoking cessation.

Since the launch of the platform in 2007, more than 100 employer groups and health plan customers have signed up, including Cleveland Clinic, CVS Caremark and National Grid.

Shape Up the Nation popped up on the radar of Cue Ball Capital, a Boston venture capital firm. The Cue Ball team liked that the company was at the intersection of two powerful trends: social networking and wellness.

"Those twin macro dynamics of a digital nation that is almost consumed by social networking, combined with the need of business to find ways to improve the health and wellness of their employees in an effort to reduce overall healthcare costs, felt like two compelling drivers," says Anthony Tjan, managing partner at Cue Ball.

The fact that Kumar and Weinberg were physicians with backgrounds in economics made the deal more attractive. The firm teamed up with Excel Venture Management, another Boston VC firm, to provide $5 million in Series A funding that closed in August.

Shape Up the Nation will use the money to expand the company and its technology infrastructure. Kumar says they will add to their 40-person team, expand the number of languages in which the platform is available and develop strategic partnerships with content entities to bring more tools and information to site users.

"Our vision is that we can use this innovative approach to healthcare to unite the entire healthcare ecosystem," Weinberg says. "It can become the central point where health plans, hospitals, pharmacies, other wellness companies, disease management companies, even consumer products companies are all coming together to reach the end user."


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