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Can Technology Motivate Healthy Behavior? – HealthTech 2011

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@MichaelSheeley  #ciht11 Lots of cool & innovation going on in the health & fitness world. Very exciting things are happening!

@MichaelSheeley  #ciht11 Lots of cool & innovation going on in the health & fitness world. Very exciting things are happening!

Indeed there are. The latest evidence for this could be found at Friday’s HealthTech 2011 conference in Boston. Sponsored by Careinnovators, #ciht11 drew hundreds of entrepreneurs, who used the day to share ideas, hear what investors thought about their space, and for a few of the heartiest, to nail their elevator pitch in a bar during the height of happy hour.

The Entrepreneurs
The large, engaged crowd suggests that #ciht11 touched a nerve, at least among entrepreneurs. Many of them believe we are entering a renaissance era in health and wellness, even bigger than the 1980s bubble which produced Access Health and HealthWise, among others.

The renaissance is being driven, they say, by strong tailwinds from many sources. The aging of the baby boomers creates a vast new market, including millions who want to maintain good health and even more who will inevitably develop chronic diseases. Inexpensive smartphones and monitoring devices are becoming ubiquitous, giving consumers real-time access to support networks and non-obtrusive ways to record data. Today’s Web-based platforms make it easy to develop products and store data.

Plus, it won’t be long before people who never knew life without the Internet will outnumber those who grew up before it. If these people can spend hours tending to eStrawberries on an eFarm, then surely they will use cool games that help them stay healthy.

There have been early successes in the space, as yesterday’s conference showed. Companies that track your work-out, like MapMyRun and RunKeeper have up to 5.5 million registered users and 300,000 active users, according to speakers and Twitterers at the conference. Shape Up the Nation provides health and wellness services to more than 2 million people via contracts with employers and payers.

The Venture Capitalists

@PearlF #ciht11 Bessemer’s Stephen Kraus: there will be next generation gaming plays on wellness, 4 now not investing, hard 2 separate from noise

Venture Capitalists seem to be more circumspect about the supposed renaissance, however. They have invested only sporadically in the space, although the few investments they have made—including a remarkable $2.25 million bet that Aza Raskin, the former creative lead at Firefox and Sutha Kamal can grow Massive Health from scratch—are noteworthy.

To be sure, most VCs absolutely do believe that some startups in this space will become wildly successful. It’s just they haven’t yet seen many startups that merit an investment at this point. Too many unproven business models. Too many marketing plans based on the premise—famously recounted at the conference by Excel Venture Management’s Rick Blume—that ‘if I build it, they will come.’

How will these startups overcome the troubling reality that 26% of people who download a health-related app use it just once, or that nearly a third of those who use health apps don’t use them as their developers intended? How realistic is a business plan that relies on users to fundamentally change their health-related behaviors?

@MatthewBrowning #ciht11 ROI, ROI, ROI is most important to investors

 The Bottom Line
The entrepreneurs must move us forward. They will do so by proving, for example that revenue models focused on large employers can be sustained as jobs flow towards small companies (which don’ t offer wellness programs). They will do so by proving that consumer-facing startups can generate sustained, active use of their tools, achieve sustained revenue growth by selling ads, ancillary products, their data or something else.

The bottom line will be proof that the tools available to today’s entrepreneurs can actually motivate human beings to change unhealthy behavior. Will games do it? Will access to support from peers or providers do it? When is simple feedback sufficient?

Renaissance or not, Health Prize CEO Tom Kottler got it exactly right in his talk Friday. “Behavior change is a bitch,” he said.

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