Shape Up The Nation Wants People to Let Their Friends Help Them Lose Weight

10/18/10

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Gtech, and CVS. This helped to convince the Brown medical school students and their advisors that there was a viable business model, Zani said.

The company has evolved its strategy in recent years with the introduction of its social networking software for participants in its wellness plans—which, understandably, have attracted self-insured employers that have an interest in keeping their workers healthy to reduce healthcare costs and lost productivity due to illnesses. “We play the role of [healthcare] cost-reduction by prevention, ultimately,” Zani said. “And we’re using constructs of peer-to-peer support and engagement to help people improve their health.”

Established players are also taking a serious interest in social networking as a way to increase the effectiveness of wellness plans. For instance, Franklin, TN-based Healthways (NASDAQ:HWAY) formed a Boston startup called MeYou Health last year to develop social networking games that encourage people to adopt healthy behaviors. The plan is for MeYou’s games to eventually be sold to major employers through Healthways.

Still, Shape Up The Nation has stood out among wellness plan providers for its relatively inexpensive service and high participation rates. The firm’s programs are a tenth of the cost of traditional weight-loss plans, and its programs typically attract about a third of a company’s eligible employees, Zani said.

In fact, the company has had 200 percent annual revenue growth since 2008, Zani said. He took the helm officially in November 2009, after Kumar and Weinberg, who had been taking leave from their studies at Brown, decided to return to and finish medical school. Both co-founders continue to work for the company on a part-time basis.

Zani, 41, apparently knows how to grow a business. After he finished Harvard Business School, he and a business partner raised money from investors to buy Plymouth, MI-based Ledco, a maker of the mounting systems that hold laptops inside police cars and other vehicles. As president of Ledco, Zani grew the firm’s annual revenue five fold in four years. In early 2009, the emergency equipment provider Havis bought Ledco for an undisclosed sum.

“Many of America’s largest companies, including Cargill, CVS Caremark, and Cleveland Clinic have recognized this opportunity” at Shape Up The Nation, said Juan Enriquez, a managing director at Excel Venture and a board member at the company, in an e-mail. “Shape Up The Nation expects to triple sales year over year because client after client has achieved extraordinary results.”

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