Ottawa health-tech firm Welbi lands deal with retirement home giant

Welbi founder
Welbi founder

Ottawa-based Welbi is more than living up to its status as one of the capital’s tech firms to watch.

The four-year-old company ​– which helps retirement homes create recreation programs and other activities for seniors and monitor residents’ levels of engagement – has seen a dramatic uptick in demand for its platform during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As feelings of social isolation among seniors spiked during the crisis, retirement residences began seeking better ways to ensure residents remained socially and physically active – a need tailor-made for Welbi’s solution.

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On Monday, the Ottawa startup officially landed its biggest customer yet, finalizing a long-term deal with Canadian-owned Revera to bring its wellness platform to the company’s retirement homes across Canada – part of Welbi’s goal of having its software in 500 facilities by the end of 2021.

“It’s definitely a big milestone for us,” said Welbi co-founder and CEO Elizabeth Audette-Bourdeau. “Now we get to scale our platform all over Canada (and beyond). I think the biggest thing that came out of the situation with COVID was to realize how important it is to engage our senior population. For us, this is where we really shined.”

Welbi beat out 11 competitors to win the contract with Revera, a major player in the retirement home industry that operates more than 500 seniors’ homes and long-term-care facilities in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom and employs 50,000 people. 

It’s the culmination of a process that started in 2018 when Audette-Bourdeau met one of the Mississauga-based company’s senior executives at a conference. Revera soon invited Welbi to test its software at one of its facilities in the GTA, setting the stage for Monday’s announcement.

“It’s definitely significant for us,” Audette-Bourdeau said. “We’ve been working at it for a year and a half.” 

Using the Welbi platforms, recreation managers at Revera’s network of facilities will be able to create a more accurate profile of each resident – including details such as what sorts of games and hobbies they enjoy and even what kind of pets they used to own. 

The system also tracks attendance at events and activities to help retirement homes gauge the overall response to their recreational programming and flag residents who appear to be less socially active than others.

Keeps track of ‘little details’

“It’s a lot of little things like that that allow (staff) to better understand their communities so they can serve them better and at the same time make sure that everybody is engaged and not left alone in their room,” Audette-Bourdeau explained. 

“When you have 100-plus residents, it gets very easy to forget that you haven’t seen someone today. For (an employee) that is running everywhere, it’s very hard to remember all those tiny little details, and Welbi is there to help them out.”

Additional feedback and input from hundreds of additional users will also help make the platform more efficient and responsive to customers’ needs, she predicted.     

“We really want to move towards personalizing the experience of the residents, so the more data we can gather … the better our platform will become,” Audette-Bourdeau said.

Now at 13 employees, Welbi is continuing to push into new markets and expects to announce more new customers in the coming weeks, she added. The firm – which launched in 2016 with the help of grants as well as money from friends and family and landed US$25,000 in funding during a Silicon Valley pitchfest in March – is also close to finalizing a new round of financing.

All in all, what was gearing up to be a breakout year for Welbi has turned out about as well as its chief executive could have expected.  

“We’re very excited,” she said.

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