Ottawa entrepreneurs turning wellness into a house call

Nurtured Life
The Nurtured Life team accepts its two pitchfest awards at Bayview Yards. Photo provided.

An Ottawa company’s goal to bring wellness services to your door – and on your schedule – is earning it acclaim in the early days of operations.

Nurtured Life capped off 2018 by winning Invest Ottawa’s pre-accelerator pitchfest, taking home both the best pitch and crowd favourite awards for its solution to make services such as massage therapy and other wellness offerings more accessible.

The company, just over a year old, is beginning its operations in Ottawa. The company’s founding team told OBJ just before the new year that the company’s mission is aimed at parents, retirees and working people who struggle to make time for personal care between the day-to-day demands of life and work.

CEO Bree Jamieson-Holloway, who worked previously as a corporate lawyer, said it was during her second pregnancy in 2017 that she discovered the benefits of daily meditation sessions to keep herself healthy and productive. Whether it’s massage, a haircut, therapy sessions or more, Nurtured Life helps clients make time for wellness with a roster of service providers making house calls at a moment’s notice.

“Maybe wellness for you is personal training. But wellness for me might be life coaching and getting my hair done once a week, for example,” Jamieson-Holloway says, explaining the variety of needs Nurtured Life addresses.

“So it's really about targeting people's own definitions of what self-care means, what wellness means, and helping them to integrate that more easily into their life.”
 

Embracing a barrier to scale

Michelle Coates-Mather, Nurtured Life’s chief marketing and communications officer, tells OBJ the company has mainly been finding its clients via word of mouth to date. One testimonial that stands out to the team was from a father with a pain in his back who had to cancel an appointment with his regular massage therapist at the last minute. Rather than wait two-to-three weeks for an appointment during business hours, his wife found a Facebook post promoting Nurtured Life and he got his knot worked out that evening after the kids had gone to sleep.

“In a society where we’re really very nine-to-five focused, that makes it hard for people to make those appointments when when they need to,” Coates-Mather says.

While other on-demand service providers focus on niches such as haircuts or massages only, Nurtured Life wants to be the one-stop shop for all wellness needs. The company currently boasts a roster of 16 service providers on its platform, with more than a dozen currently in the vetting pipeline.

Chief operating officer Emma Pearce-Mogridge says the process to join is fairly extensive, consisting of multiple interviews, validating professional certifications, a criminal background check, an in-person demonstration and an orientation before providers are ready to work in the field.

Jamieson-Holloway acknowledges that the long onboarding process will likely make scaling up to cities such as Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver more difficult, but it’s worth it to guarantee quality and safety.

“I also think it's probably one of the most important pieces of our business. It's a key differentiator between us and our competitors,” she says. When it comes time to scale up, the vetting team itself will need to grow in line with Nurtured Life’s providers, she adds.

Women mentoring women

With its pitchfest win, Nurtured Life earned itself six months of desk space in Invest Ottawa’s accelerator space as well as access to the economic development agency’s mentors. The company is looking to join the formal accelerator in the new year.

Working with Invest Ottawa’s team of mentors in the pre-accelerator helped Nurtured Life identify the “holes” in its foundation, Jamieson-Holloway says, as well as preparing the company for investment and identifying a customer acquisition strategy. One of the standouts of the program, she adds, has been working with female mentors – a recent focus of Invest Ottawa’s programming.

When its formal accelerator program was first launched last summer, Invest Ottawa also released its new guidelines for gender, diversity and inclusion aimed at improving the representation of women and visible minorities on its boards of directors and committees. The organization hopes to promote itself as a reliable resource for women-led startups such as Nurtured Life and make Ottawa into a barrier-free tech ecosystem.

In pursuit of gender parity on the mentorship side, vice-president of venture development Nick Quain has hired four more female coaches in recent months, bringing women’s representation in Invest Ottawa’s 18-person advisory team up to 40 per cent.

“The bottom line is we know that performance and impact are increased the more diverse an organization is,” says Invest Ottawa’s vice-president of marketing and communications Sonya Shorey. A 2017 report from Deloitte backs up Shorey’s claim that inclusive organizations are more likely to succeed.

Jamieson-Holloway, herself the daughter of an Indigenous mother and African-Canadian father, says finding mentors that the team can identify with has been invaluable.

“We’ve had a really hard time, prior to coming to Invest Ottawa, finding mentors – especially female mentors – who are willing to speak to us and take the time to really help us build this vision and share their experiences with us,” she says.