The New Year is a great time to kick-start a new regime and set new objectives for yourself. Many of the resolutions people make this year will be about losing weight, getting fit or living a healthier lifestyle – and interestingly, health and wellness is one of the business sectors that I think is going through major change and offers great opportunities for entrepreneurs.
Though many developed economies are struggling through some tough times, the wellness sector has proved resilient, and some fast-moving businesses are finding success. This is partly because more people are becoming aware of the wider benefits of getting fit and partly because technology is revolutionising the way they can track, record and motivate themselves.
In much the same way as the iPod and iPhone transformed the way people enjoy music, fitness devices such as the Nike+ FuelBand (which my wife, Joan, and daughter Holly both sport regularly) and sophisticated apps for running and swimming have helped people to take their training to a new level.
These devices also have the potential to transform established businesses in the sector. At Virgin Active, our family-friendly line of health clubs, new devices are helping us to attract new clients. On a recent visit to a club in Britain, I was struck by the range of technologies available to members, from body scanners to assess your body fat content to exercise machines with built-in heart rate monitors.
But the gadget that really caught my eye was Swimtag, a British-designed training aid that tracks your progress in the pool. (As I have mentioned before, I try to swim most mornings that I am at home on Necker Island, so this piqued my interest.)
Aimed at all levels of swimmers, Swimtag records the number of lengths, split times, stroke rate and stroke type, allowing you to set personal challenges, share results with friends and compete online. This is just the sort of device that can create a whole new market where none was before, and at the same time encourage more people to swim and stay interested in their fitness levels.
I like coming up with ideas for this sector both because it’s fun and because it offers opportunities for businesses to make a difference in people’s lives. Some of the best ways we can help our communities is by applying innovative and entrepreneurial approaches to major issues such as obesity and by encouraging healthy living.
And exercise has always been part of my life – right now tennis and kite-surfing are my favourite sports – and I feel that keeping fit has helped me a great deal in my professional life. Many business leaders I know get run down by overwork and by not taking care of themselves; in time this leads to exhaustion and poor decision making.
So at the Virgin Group, we have built up a portfolio of health-related businesses over the past decade. I’ve already mentioned Virgin Active, and we also have the health research and development business Virgin Health Bank, based in Qatar, which is pioneering the storage of stem cells. We now provide health services for the National Health Service in Britain through Virgin Care, one of our newest and fastest-growing companies.
In the United States we are tackling the corporate health market with Virgin HealthMiles, which provides companies with innovative ways to encourage staff to get healthy, reducing healthcare costs for companies and their employees. This is a win-win for everyone, since a healthy workforce is a more engaged and productive one, and costs less to insure.
And again, the success of this business is partly tied to new technologies, since over the years the HealthMiles team has come up with a number of devices and online programmes designed to encourage employees to get fit and then to maintain that motivation.
Do you have an idea for the health and wellness sector? Remember, if your new company is going to take off, you’ll need to improve people’s lives and fill a gap in the market. I’m hoping that this sector will get much larger over the next few years as more people successfully ensure that their resolutions about getting healthier are not made in January and forgotten by March, but last the whole year round.