Seven startups that want to help employees sit less, stay active at work

By Aditi Pai
10:04 am

CubiiEarlier this month, Chicago-based startup FitnessCubed launched a Kickstarter for its device, a portable elliptical, called Cubii that fits under a user's desk. The company designed this device for employees who want to stay active even when they are sitting at their desk.

Although many employers offer wellness programs for employees who want to stay fit and healthy, and some companies are already seeing savings from these programs, many of them focus on creating fitness and nutrition initiatives that employees can take part in outside of the office. FitnessCubed, on the other hand, is one of relatively few startups who are targeting employees at a different time, when the employees are still at work.

Many of these companies are combating what is sometimes called "sitting disease".

In an interview last year, Jawbone VP of Software Jeremiah Robinson shared data about activity tracker UP users in New York City. One of the findings was that the city has the most steps counted of any city, thus it seems that users in New York were generally more healthy than users living elsewhere. But, he said, another metric shows that New Yorkers also sat the most during the day. Using this information, Jawbone added a feature called Idle Alert that helps users understand when they had been still for too long. While Jawbone's main focus is on activity -- all kinds of movement -- there are some startups entirely focused on inactivity, and preventing it.

Here are seven companies outside of the activity tracker space who aim to help employees stay active during their workdays. 


The portable elliptical fits under the user's desk so that while users are working, they can also be moving their legs, and ideally burning calories. Users can view their elliptical activity data on a companion app and also sync data into the app from other fitness trackers. The device is available on Kickstarter for $299 and will retail for $349.

Hot Seat

Hot Seat has been around since at least 2012. The app uses social motivation — users sharing and challenging other users — to get office workers to engage in a bout of mini-activity during 2-minute work breaks. Workers choose from a menu of activities, including walking and climbing steps, and the app encourages them to take a break and do their chosen activity or activities throughout the day. The app also integrates with the user’s calendar so it can create a daily activity break calendar around meetings.


This one might be called a dedicated inactivity device tracker company. Rise launched an Indiegogo campaign in November to raise funds for its device that simply tracks how much a user sits throughout the day. Users can keep Rise, which is a small circular device, almost the size of a penny, in their back pocket. The device sends metrics about how often they sit to a companion app. Users can then compete with co-workers or friends to sit less. Rise also provides users with goals to reach and reminders from the app to do other things besides sit throughout the day. The campaign was less than stellar -- it raised just $8,346 of its $80,000 goal.

Stir Kinetic Desk

Stir's Kinetic Desk is a smart desk that moves up and down as it learns from the user’s behavior. Users can command the desk to move by tapping on a touchscreen sensor in the corner of the desk. Throughout the day, Stir might also slightly sway up and down while the user is working to remind them to move around. Stir has always counted calories that the user burns while standing up and working, but since integrating with fitness tracker Fitbit, it also integrates this data with a user's Fitbit data. Stir sends logs to Fitbit that show the user’s time spent standing and extra calories burned during this time.

Table Air

Another smart desk, called Table Air launched a Kickstarter campaign in late June. So far, TableAir is just a concept, with one prototype, but he company wants to help users more easily shift between sitting and standing while working. Users pair their desk with their smartphone, and then choose sitting and standing time intervals suitable to their work. From there, the desk moves up and down as scheduled, subtly nudging users to stand up or sit down to work. Users can check their progress on the desk’s display or on the iOS app. The app is currently available only on iOS devices but they’re planning to introduce Android version soon after TableAir launches.

Project Boundary

Project Boundary is a joint effort from The Department of Health and Human Service’s Idea Lab, the Office of the National Coordinator partnered, and company Total Communicator Solutions. The project aims to help employers engage their employees with proximity sensors and messages that are sent to the user’s smartphone. In its first demo, Project Boundary focused on helping employees increase the movement and physical activity they did every day. For example, when users approach the elevator, the beacon near the elevator will send a trigger to the user’s phone that suggests users take the stairs. After users get up the stairs, another beacon will trigger a message that offers the user a “mountaineer achievement” for choosing to climb them. After the team sets up Project Boundary in different workplaces, they will start to “nudge” the employees based on what the program learns about their habits. Eventually, Project Boundary also plans to incorporate competitions and other gaming components.


While not specifically targeted at employee wellness, digital health upstart Darma developed a cushion that aims to help people remember to maintain good posture when sitting down for long periods of time. The cushion contains one millimeter-thick fiber optic sensors that sense the user’s movements. The pillow also has embedded sensors that detect heart rate, stress level, and respiration. All of this information is sent to a companion app on the user’s smartphone. The app can then track a user’s stress level, sitting time, and posture and try to motivate users to get up every now and then. It will also alert users when they’ve slipped into a bad position and explain how to correct their posture. If users are feeling back pain, the app can guide them through stretches that might help relieve it.


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