Sprout turns the tables on workplace wellness with data-driven results and fun

- Toronto, Ontario

3 people and a dog looking at computer

Martha Switzer and Christina Ford, co-founders of Sprout Wellness Solutions, with Josh Estacion of the Sprout Product Team, at their head office in Toronto. Support from NRC's IRAP enabled Sprout to accelerate the development of many of its data-driven and mobile features.

The road to work-life balance is paved with good intentions – especially when it comes to workplace health and wellness programs. But for many of us, it's easy to fall short of our goals.

Sprout, a Toronto digital health firm, is helping companies focus on their workers' overall physical and mental wellness with a customizable, data-driven, online platform and app that inspires employees to improve health through fun activities, social networking, and the latest innovations in wearable technologies that provide trackable results. Almost any activity counts: from workplace fitness challenges to cooking classes, or yoga and meditation, both inside and outside of work hours. Employers can assess the aggregate impact of their program through a simple, one-stop dashboard.

Live well, work well

Co-founded in 2011 by Martha Switzer and Christina Ford, Sprout targets medium and large organizations in Canada and internationally.

"We wanted to create a user-friendly, visually engaging interface that could be tailored to individual interests and inspire employees to pursue their wellness priorities and track their results," said Switzer. "Our product had to be safe and secure, as well as give employers the analytical tools they needed to measure the aggregate impact of their programs and to offer incentives and rewards."

"Our goal is to grow a major Canadian company. We are very lucky to have programs like NRC's IRAP that support innovation and help Canadians develop the technology the world wants."

"Both of us used to work in large, multinational enterprises, so we knew there is always a time crunch when it comes to health and wellness programs – both for the employee and for the human resources team," she continued. "And yet, a happy, healthy workforce is simply more creative and focused, and that improves the bottom line. An effective wellness program can enhance employee productivity, as well as reduce sick days, employee turnover, training costs and expensive health claims. It can also be a recruitment tool: today's employee is looking for this kind of health benefit and support."

Step-by-step approach to development

Switzer and Ford turned to the National Research Council's Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC's IRAP) for help with building a prototype that would demonstrate the value of their idea. They knew they wanted to make employee choice central to the product in order to encourage employee uptake, while making the platform and data collected customizable to different industries and the unique needs of each employer. Given the times, making the app mobile, interactive and shareable was vital.

"We helped them fine-tune their technology and business strategy," said Rizwan (Riz) Kheraj, NRC's IRAP Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA). "We recommended a laddered approach with small research projects that could build one upon another."

Sprout's Martha Switzer and Christina Ford in front of computer

Sprout's Martha Switzer and Christina Ford turned to IRAP for advice in creating an R&D roadmap that allowed the company to build a technical competitive edge and gain market share in the corporate digital health market.

With IRAP support, Sprout hired the engineering staff it needed to develop its initial software platform. Later, IRAP funding enabled Sprout to add a mobile app to allow users to access the platform while on the go. Next they began to integrate popular wearables, such as Nike+, Jawbone™ and Fitbit™. Their most recent research project with IRAP augmented the platform's capacity for analytics to allow human resources departments and management to evaluate program outcomes and support rewards programs.

"NRC's IRAP has been a huge support since day one," said Switzer. "Riz's advice has been invaluable, helping us stay on top of the fast-moving wearables market, and connecting us with other organizations with complementary technologies. He also introduced us to investors in Vancouver, Toronto and San Francisco."

Stepping up to success

The results have been outstanding for Sprout. "NRC's IRAP support really helped us push more R&D through faster than we could have done otherwise," said Switzer. "It gave us the technology to stay ahead and to continue adding the features our customers wanted."

By 2016, the company had grown to 30 employees. Key customers included McKesson, BC Ferries and TELUS. A partnership with La Capitale Insurance is putting Sprout products into the hands of client companies across the country. With its digital and customizable nature, the Sprout platform has the flexibility to work in almost any industry and across multiple company locations. It is currently in use in 22 countries.

"Our goal is to grow a major Canadian company," said Switzer. "We are very lucky to have programs like NRC's IRAP that support innovation and help Canadians develop the technology the world wants.

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