Virgin Pulse Investment Is A $92M Bet On Employee Wellness

NEW YORK -- Chris Boyce sleeps easier these days.

Over the last year, the chief executive of Virgin Pulse, the Virgin Group’s workplace wellness platform, has trained himself to sleep better. He sets a cool temperature in his bedroom, he keeps electronic distractions away from his bed and he routinely gets seven hours of rest. Boyce also meditates daily to reduce his stress levels.

But now, perhaps more than ever in the company’s 11-year history, he'll need to get enough shut-eye to keep his focus sharp. On Wednesday, Virgin Pulse announced a $92 million funding round from Insight Venture Partners, the firm’s first-ever investment from outside Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin conglomerate.

“We’re in a good position right now, and we think that the market is coming into its own,” Boyce told The Huffington Post in a phone interview on Wednesday. “It’s certainly time to grow a little faster.”

Companies can offer Virgin Pulse's services to employees as part of a benefits plan. The service -- which functions via a mobile app, a fitness tracker and a desktop website -- coaches users by allowing them to track their movements and other health-related activities. For example, after meditating, working out or taking a quick walk, a user can log the time spent or share it via social media. Other features, such as a reward currency, award points for each activity the user does during the day.

The investment by Insight Venture Partners serves as a small milestone in the evolution of modern office life. Wellness in the workplace has become the corporate trend du jour. A mounting body of research shows that better physical and mental health boost productivity, reduce healthcare costs and make for happier employees. As such, companies are increasingly funding wellness programs, including workplace meditation, in-office doctors and exercise lineups.

Virgin Pulse, based in Framingham, Massachusetts, has been seeing interest grow. About two million employees at more than 250 different companies use the service. When the company was founded, users interacted with the program about 1.5 times a day on average. That number steadily grew to 2.5 times a day. Then, when Virgin Pulse rolled out its new, mobile-friendly interface a year ago, the frequency of use nearly doubled, to four times daily.

Next, Boyce hopes to add services to help employees manage their finances.

“Our platform helps people celebrate that they’re making attempts to change their lives,” he said.

To be sure, the company faces a growing field of rivals in the digital health management space. Keas Health Management just added gamification features to its app. Another competitor, LifeDojo, recently won a spot at the New York-based incubator Startup Health. Earlier this month, Welltok bought the Denver-based health management startup Predilytics to add more personalized features.

Boyce said the employee-benefits business isn't easy to break into, but noted that his company has the unique advantage of having been in the industry for over a decade.

“HR is a pretty tough business," he said. "Everything is a downside -- it’s like IT -- if you get it right, no one says anything, if you get it wrong, everyone howls. But this is one area where our HR leaders have said, ‘Wow, we can make a difference.’”

Disclaimer: AOL, which owns The Huffington Post, is a Virgin Pulse client.

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