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Wellness Start-Up Perk Health joins TreeHouse Health

Zach McGill and Doug DeBold founded Perk Health in 2012 to help solve what they believe to be the biggest challenge in health care today: To help employees become more physically active.

“Physical inactivity is the new smoking,” says McGill. “It now kills more people than smoking and costs our health care system more than any other single factor.”

The duo took a big step toward addressing this challenge when they joined RiverSystems and VitalSims as start-ups partnering with and taking up full-time residence at TreeHouse Health in Loring Park in November.

How does Perk Health help employees become more active? Though a web/mobile app and smart messaging system that focuses on incentives, guidance and support.

The web/mobile app allows employees to earn cash incentives for activity while monitoring the progress of their peers. At the same time, a virtual coach—“Kevin”—helps employees work toward achieving health-related goals by tailoring specific fitness approaches based on personality assessments and psychological profiles. “Kevin” does this by sending text messages directly to employees with tips, advice and content designed specifically for each employee’s unique motivational style.

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“The concept of ’Kevin’ is based on our high school cross-country skiing coach,” says DeBold. “He coached Zach and I very differently since we have different personality types and motivations. That concept was a big part of the genesis of Perk Health.”

Local health insurance company, UCare, has been running a pilot using the Perk Health tools since May. So far, engagement has been high—90 percent of people who started using the tools are still using them, and healthy behaviors are on the rise.

McGill, a University of Minnesota graduate, also runs a Nordic ski coaching program and coaches Nordic skiing at Hopkins High School. DeBold, a Middlebury College graduate, was a national cross-country skier and skied professionally for a year before co-founding Perk Health.

McGill and DeBold started working out of TreeHouse Health full-time in mid-November. They plan to work out of the space on a full-time basis—and, they’re already seeing the benefits.

“There’s a constant flow of the right kind of people coming through TreeHouse Health—that’s the biggest benefit for us,” said McGill. “Look up from your work and there’s likely to be a health care venture capitalist, a successful health IT entrepreneur, or a health system executive walking through the space.”

“We’re really excited about working with Perk Health. Zach and Doug bring boundless energy to the TreeHouse Health community and are tackling a real problem in health care,” says John Blank, chairman at TreeHouse Health.