Hi Scott, can you tell me about DiscoVelo?
DiscoVelo is a software company founded in 2019 on the belief that mental and emotional wellness are tightly connected to physical activity. Exercise is obviously key to physical well-being, but the brain science research says that many common mental health challenges, like those related to anxiety and depression, are also most effectively addressed by increasing our heart rate. So, we’re developing software that will connect to standard fitness equipment to activate the powerful benefits of combining physical and mental activity. Our software will engage the user through an interactive digital interface with content that is powered by the pedaling of the stationary bike. Think ‘serious’ games that you ‘play’ by exercising. We are incorporating emerging brain science, principles of self-regulation, and the power of interactive digital media to help users unlock the potential of their brains and to improve physical and mental wellness along the way.
What is your vision for DiscoVelo?
Our product will initially be developed for student use in classrooms, connected to stationary bikes. This may seem like an odd combination, but we have a partnership with an organization called Run for Life. Through their program Sparks Fly, they have been placing stationary bikes in classrooms since 2012. The program has been incredibly successful in providing a classroom management tool for teachers and in helping students to regulate their energy and focus their attention through moving their bodies. In response to teachers’ requests, our initial product development goal is to amplify the value of those bikes and to encourage more students to use them by fitting them with fun and creative interactive digital media.
The long-term vision of DiscoVelo is expanding the platform to all kinds of fitness equipment across a range of user groups and settings. And since it isn’t just children who are struggling to fulfill their potential, we plan to reach beyond classrooms into corporate wellness programs. The World Health Organization quantified in 2018 a trillion dollars globally in lost productivity because of stress and anxiety in the workplace. Another report identified that for every dollar employers put into corporate wellness programs, they can get back on average $1.62 in productivity. So, employers and researchers are really starting to see the value in corporate wellness initiatives and mental health supports in the workplace. What we are developing is a great fit for those initiatives. We truly believe that the premise has the potential to scale beyond the classroom, with potential in physical rehabilitation, trauma recovery, and therapeutic applications.
Tell me about the passion that drives you and your partners to build this company?
My business partners and I share values around healthy living, having fun and making an impact – we really want to move the needle on something meaningful to all of us. So, the passion for us is in making an impact and seeing change in areas where we recognize there are problems. Developing something that will make it easier for people to take good care of themselves is important to us, and underpins our purpose. Providing a tool that will encourage a healthy mindset is something that is tangible for me. I have experienced workplace anxiety and through that, was fortunate enough to learn what a powerful tool exercise can be in managing stress, and in understanding the significance of the brain/body connection.
With DiscoVelo, we want to put all that research and good science to work to help people. We see teachers struggling in the classrooms, children getting less and less physical activity and the physical, mental, and emotional fallout from that. We see people battling stressful workplaces, and we believe we have something here that can make a difference. So, yeah, making an impact on that front is something we are really passionate about.
So, how did DiscoVelo come about?
John Carson, a friend and now business partner, is also a fantastic massage therapist – which is how we met. During our sessions, he would tell me about the work he was doing with the Sparks Fly program and how successful it was at giving students a tool for managing their energy. They have placed more than 6,000 stationary bikes in classrooms across Canada, and continue to grow, with more than 100 bikes here in Yukon as well. Though teachers are very happy with the difference the bikes are making in their classrooms, many of them have indicated that some students who could really benefit from the bikes need something to compel them to use them – some kind of activity with a beginning, a middle, and an end that would draw them in and keep them there. John was hesitant to introduce another screen into children’s lives, but over time, with so many teachers asking for something like this, it became clear that developing a way to engage those reluctant students was going to increase the value of having the bikes in the classroom.
Just as he was arriving at this conclusion, I was looking for a different way to apply myself professionally. I had just left a consulting office and got a Yukonstruct hotdesk membership – I knew that the people who were making their ideas happen were concentrated at Yukonstruct. I had several friends who were Cospace members from way back, and I knew that amazing things were happening there. I was ready for a new challenge in my life and was focused on contributing to something that would have an impact. I didn’t know what that was going to be; however, I had a feeling that this was the place where I was going to find it – and that’s exactly what happened.
Through a series of meetings and discussions I had with people in the space, and after bringing John into the dialogue, we both realized, ”Hey, I think there might be something here!” The time was right, and the support networks were in place, so we had a glass of wine and decided to kick it off. It’s safe to say that we definitely would not be doing this right now if it weren’t for Yukonstruct.
Awesome! So, beyond existing as a place for people to meet and collaborate, how has Yukonstruct empowered you to take those initial ideas and conversations to the next level?
Cospace was instrumental to our origin story by introducing us to the community that we needed to be connected to. By the nature of the space, some of the connections were intentional and some were just serendipitous. But the seed for DiscoVelo was planted and germinated in Cospace.
Then we moved over to the inaugural Startup Bootcamp pre-accelerator program where we spent 12 weeks validating our ideas and putting all the pieces in place to get our idea on solid footing. We had an idea and immediately started asking ourselves, “so what do we do with this?” Even before the Bootcamp, the Yukonstruct staff were helping us put our vision together. They gave us a sense of what we needed to do to actually advance this idea: build a business around it, develop a product, find the fit with your customers, structure the company, get financing, take a product to market, and scale it up to the point where it’s going to create the value investors are going to want to see. All those concepts were very new to us, but we were able to start putting that scaffolding around our idea.
With so much of the support network being concentrated at Yukonstruct, it made things happen really quickly for us. The physical space, the proximity to the people with the ideas and skills, and the connections outward; to the funders, mentors, discipline experts, and all the people we needed to connect with to start moving forward are either here or they are connected to the community. So, here, you are one degree separated from who you need – you never have to ask more than twice to end up in front of the person who can connect you with the information, advice, or support that you need.
And to bring it full circle, my first exposure to Yukonstruct was through the Makespace woodshop. I had a membership there because I was doing some woodworking, and my kids went to a couple of the Maker Camps during spring break and that was all really positive. So, I knew that they were on to something when I heard the vision to bring Cospace and Yukonstruct together in this building. I thought, “OK it’s going to be really cool“, and sure enough, it is.
We are so happy for you and your business partners. Thank you for sitting down with me, it’s been really interesting to hear your story. Before you go, I am sure you’ve had to do a lot of reading and podcast listening throughout your journey to building DiscoVelo, do you have any podcast or book recommendations?
Startup by Gimlet Media is a great podcast by Alex Bloomberg – he used to be with This American Life. It’s an entertaining listen about his journey starting up a podcasting company. Very meta!
Photo Credit: Stephen Anderson Lindsay