Winner of $10K Women in Digital Heath prize talks finding success as 'wrong' kind of founder

The three-year-old startup has overcome some challenges to serve 1,200 vendors and 20 customers in 60 markets.
By Jonah Comstock
01:38 pm

(L to R) MITRE SVP Kathleen Federico, Welnys CEO Heather Waibel and MassChallenge Director of Operations Nina Kandilian (Photo courtesy of MassChallenge)

At MassChallenge HealthTech's awards event last week, judges awarded the $10,000 Women in Digital Health Award, sponsored by Mitre, to Welnys, a Jersey City, New Jersey-based startup that connects employers to many different kinds of wellness vendors through a single source.

"I’m a lot of things you’re not supposed to be as a founder," CEO Heather Waibel said in a brief acceptance speech. "I’m a solo founder. I’m a nontechnical founder. I’m a bootstrapped founder. And, yes, I’m a female founder. So I’ve had a lot of lows and heard a lot of ‘No’s,' and it’s really special to me that a group of people sat around and thought of my company and said 'Yes.' So thank you, and I accept this for everybody that’s building their company a little bit differently."

This is the second year MassChallenge has honored women founders with the $10,000 prize — last year it went to family caregiver app maker Folia Health.

"One of our personal beliefs at MITRE is that innovation really is at the intersection of diversity and inclusion," Kathleen Federico, SVP at MITRE, said at the event. "To be able to present this award to women who are leaders in their communities, who are executives and entrepreneurs, really is very exciting for us, and from a personal perspective, something I'm really proud to be a part of."

In a follow-up interview with MobiHealthNews, Weibel elaborated on her acceptance speech, saying that the relative difficulty of obtaining funding as a woman founder was one of many barriers she's had to overcome.

"Every roadblock you find in front of you as a founder makes it more difficult," she said. "So if you’re a solo founder, it’s harder; if you’re a nontechnical founder, it’s harder; and unfortunately, statistically, if you’re a female founder it’s also harder to raise money. And by raising less capital you’re disadvantaged in a number of ways. You can’t grow as fast, you can’t get sales resources and attack your market as quickly as your competitors can. Unfortunately there’s still a funding gap that needs to be addressed so that women founders are able to grow their businesses [quickly]."

Nonetheless, Welnys has found a lot of success in the program with the support of champion GSK and the other startups in the cohort, many of which have joined Welnys as vendors. In three years, the company has grown to a team of six that's works with 20 customers in 60 different markets. That's because one of the company's major value propositions is helping big tech companies manage lots of US offices.

"We work really well for multi-location companies because they most acutely feel the pain that we solve, and that pain is around the actual logistics of running your health and wellness program," she said. "The bigger you are, the more vendors you’re working with, the more invoices you're getting, the more procurement and legal processes you’re going through. So we come and we streamline all of that so companies just have to do all those things once but still get access to hundreds and thousands of vendors that they can utilize."

The Jersey City startup is planning to continue to scale and expand its efforts, with hopes to eventually launch outside the United States as well.