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Continued: Novu website makes wellness fun and rewarding

  • Article by: JACKIE CROSBY , Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 19, 2014 - 2:00 PM

Businesses incorporate Novu into wellness programs, and insurance companies use it to help enrollees manage their care. More recently, Novu has signed up health systems, giving providers a tool to help patients once they leave the clinic.

Executives declined to say how many people are using the site, but 2.4 million users have access to it at the workplace or through their insurers or medical clinics, Tom Wicka said, and the goal is to double that this year. The company, which is profitable, has a 2014 goal of $10 million in revenue.

The name is a riff on the Latin “novus” or “new beginning,” and the Novu website tries to encourage people to jump in and get started.

Daily, weekly and monthly challenges might include pounds lost or miles walked. Users are enticed to stay engaged with educational trivia games, tips and weekly prize raffles. All the while, they’re racking up points that can be redeemed for discounts or charitable donations.

They honor the code at the St. Louis Park headquarters, where about 50 workers occupy a sprawling space with neon-colored walls and plenty of natural light. A digital screen in a conference room displays rotating tips from employees on better living. And once, when a new vendor sent over a box of doughnuts, they ended up stale and untouched in the company’s break room.

Tom Wicka argues that Novu is different from other wellness programs or “health engagement” tools because it figures out what consumers want to do — and doesn’t tell them what they should do.

So instead of harping on someone to stop smoking or hammering at a diabetic to lose weight, Novu might start off with tips to help a busy parent manage stress or offer a program on how to get more sleep.

Okroi, the once-reluctant participant, has lost 36 pounds since signing up last July and has cut back on smoking so much that quitting seems to be in reach. The support and trust of her network of peers, including Novu users in California and Washington, have given her confidence to reveal a more-private battle with food, she said. As a teenager, she ballooned to 200 pounds and then dropped to a dangerous 120 pounds, gripped by an eating disorder that left her near death and possibly unable to have children.

Okroi said she has gained the courage to talk about her struggles.

“I’ve never opened up in public. That was my dirty secret,” she said. “I never thought I could love food and love who I am. I can eat and be healthy and take care of myself and my children. It has seriously changed my life.”

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335

  • related content

  • Novu was founded in 2011 by brothers Jim Wicka, left, who handles corporate relationships, CEO Tom Wicka and John Wicka, who heads up product development.

  • Novu digital production designer Shani Nestingen demonstrated how she works to create materials to encourage people to benefit their health.

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