A wellness entrepreneur engages patients on a different level.
Coming from a long line of physicians, Rajiv Kumar ’05 MD’11 always thought that he, too, would one day see patients in his office as a practicing pediatrician. But a student public health project that he helped design that focused on preventive health eventually became the platform for a successful startup in the corporate wellness industry. Kumar is now keeping people healthy as CEO of Providence-based ShapeUp Inc.
Kumar cofounded ShapeUp in 2006 with Brad Weinberg ’03 MD’11. Ten years later, the company has more than 800 employer clients nationally and 2.2 million employee participants, and they’ve opened offices in Boston and San Francisco.
The corporate wellness industry serves employers who want both to control costs and boost productivity by keeping employees healthy. ShapeUp leans heavily on the latest tech to draw in and keep participants engaged in meeting their health and wellness goals. Healthy habits require behavior change, Kumar says, and “you can’t do it alone. The idea of modifying your social network, pulling in your friends, family, and colleagues … is critical to this type of behavior change.”
ShapeUp unites employees through a software platform that integrates social media, fitness trackers, automated feedback, and rewards to drive behavior change and evidence-based outcomes. Its approach is different than traditional wellness programs that focus on biometric screening, health risk assessments, educational campaigns, and telephonic coaching; indeed, some employers that subscribe to traditional programs are also clients of ShapeUp. Employers don’t just want their employees to be healthy, Kumar says. They also want them to form stronger bonds, collaborate more, and feel more enthusiastic and receptive toward workplace initiatives. “Our model is truly engaging, from a bottom-up, grassroots approach,” he says.
Kumar’s background as a physician informs his role as CEO. “Treating patients in the hospital in their most vulnerable moments and seeing the burden of disease and the impact it has on them and their families gives you a unique perspective,” he says. ShapeUp shares the goals of the primary care physician trying to help his or her patients control their blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes, he says, only “our intervention happens to be a software platform, and our venue happens to be the workplace.”
And ShapeUp can promote health on a much larger scale, Kumar says: “Participants that have engaged in our program have lost over 2 million pounds, and they have walked over 1 trillion steps.”
When it comes to the well-being of his own employees, Kumar walks the talk. The corporate culture fosters a relaxed atmosphere: employees’ dogs are welcome in the ShapeUp headquarters. The company hosts yoga and resilience classes and offers a master trainer who leads boot camp workouts multiple times a week. “We have a company rock band, we have an annual company ski trip, and there is a lot of celebration here,” Kumar says. His goal is the same as that of his customers. “We want to make sure that we communicate effectively, that we work together well on teams, and that we are stronger together than on our own.”