MassChallenge Company FitVirtual Uses Social Media to Crowdsource Customized Exercise Programs that Really Work

8/30/10Follow @xconomy

Thanks to sites like YouTube and online fitness publications, it seems like tutorials on virtually any form of exercise—from yoga to barefoot running—are at your fingertips. But personally, I’ve found that it’s difficult to manage the slew of content on the often-exotic exercise styles, and make sense of it with my everyday fitness routines.

Boston-based FitVirtual is trying to fix this with an online platform that allows you to manage and design customized fitness plans, and stay motivated by your social network. It’s first taking this approach to small- and medium-sized businesses, to power customized employer wellness programs, a service it is rolling out this September.

That’s the “bread and butter” of the business as far as revenue goes, says founder and CEO Nabil Aidoud. But don’t fret if your company doesn’t adopt the Fit Virtual technology. You can log into a free version of the site, at FiVi.com. There’s also an iPhone and Facebook app for the site, with an Android version on its way.

The online portal enables you to manually enter your workouts on a personalized calendar, as well as attach videos showing proper exercise form to a personalized workout calendar. It also offers built-in calculators that can track how much you burned in a particular workout, based on your weight and gender. Users can change their workout logs each week through drag and drop functions, as well as view the activity of other users in their network via news feeds.

“We’re tapping into the power of social media to allow wellness program administrators to develop highly customized wellness plans for their targeted population,” he says.

Aidoud, who previously worked as an IBM consultant, says he got the inspiration for his startup, which launched in 2009 and has been bootstrap funded to date, after staring at a company fitness poster while pulling overtime hours on a Saturday. He says while traveling heavily as a consultant, his health lagged due to lack of sleep and poor eating on the road.

“I thought so many people must be just as miserable as me,” he says. So he decided to develop a platform where consumers could engage with fitness plans regardless of their location or expertise level.

At the corporate wellness level, FitVirtual is interested in working closely with companies to design wellness programs tailored to the needs of employees. It’s focused on enabling healthcare plan administrators at companies to submit instructional workout video content for employees, and combine the different elements or programs to create structured exercise plans. Employees will also be able to interact and share their routines with family and friends outside the company through FiVi.com. The platform also aims to determine users’ adherence to exercise plans over time, by following how much they continued to log their exercise routines.

The platform will also help employers use competition to fuel employee wellness, by letting them set up fitness contests among workers and groups, or create events that fuel debate surrounding different exercise schools of thought.

Other software-powered sites are also out to help companies design customized health and wellness plans for employees. Such wellness program offerings have generated much buzz amid current healthcare reform efforts, as effective ways to keep healthcare costs down. Other players include Boston-based Healthrageous and Providence-based Shape Up the Nation.

Aidoud says there are several things that distinguish his startup—which has been accepted to the state startup program MassChallenge and operates out of its building in Boston’s seaport district—from others in the space. He says it is priced below many Web-based health programs, and that the company is looking to work closely with company health administrators to develop customized, advanced programs, rather than offer a one-size-fits-all product.

Ultimately, FitVirtual is hoping to study the data gathered from company wellness platforms and FiVi.com to learn which types of workouts are most effective with particular populations or demographics. It plans to use that knowledge to create crowdsourced health and fitness programs to power its Web service later this year. The company’s algorithms will then track users’ interest and interaction with a particular workout, and adapt to automatically offer them the most effective programs, Aidoud says. “The more you use the site, the more intelligent it becomes.”

And the smarter it becomes, the healthier you should be.

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