Vancouver’s WELL Health Technologies has launched a new corporate investment arm, WELL Ventures, as the company looks to formalize its approach to making strategic minority investments in digital health and wellness startups.
The move follows a year of significant growth in the healthtech sector amid COVID-19. WELL has been particularly active in the acquisition space during this period, setting its sights on more early-stage, Canadian digital health and wellness firms.
“The idea is that [WELL Ventures] becomes an onramp, an external-facing point of connectivity with the startup community.”
-Hamed Shahbazi, WELL Health’s chairman, CEO
“We think that it’s really important that digital health in Canada has the type of nurturing and sponsorship that the largest publicly-traded healthcare IT company in the country can provide,” Hamed Shahbazi, WELL’s chairman and CEO told BetaKit.
Founded in 2010, WELL Health is an acquisitive Toronto Stock Exchange-listed healthcare IT company that trades under the symbol ‘WELL.’ WELL owns and operates software and telehealth services as well as a portfolio of primary healthcare facilities in Canada and the United States.
The firm recently completed its acquisition of Ontario health service provider MyHealth. The deal is one of the latest in a long line of acquisitions for WELL, which has previously acquired Ontario’s Intrahealth, Ottawa-based ExecHealth, Vancouver’s CRH Medical, and Toronto-based Adracare.
WELL also has a long track record of investing in early-stage digital health companies, including Toronto’s INSIG, Phelix.ai, Pillway, and Twig Fertility. The company plans to fold its previous minority investments into WELL Ventures’ portfolio.
“The point of [WELL Ventures] is to provide the industry with an identity of where we are looking to make these minority investments,” said Shahbazi, who claimed that WELL Ventures will help entrepreneurs and startups learn more about WELL’s team, investment philosophy, and approach.
Through WELL Ventures, WELL aims to “streamline” its interactions with healthtech startups. “The idea is that [WELL Ventures] becomes an onramp, an external-facing point of connectivity with the startup community,” said Shahbazi.
The company’s new venture arm will be led by the same corporate development team that leads the company merger and acquisition (M&A) efforts. WELL is financing WELL Ventures using an undisclosed amount of its own cash.
According to WELL, WELL Ventures has a broad focus that addresses “all areas of health and wellness,” including digital health apps, practitioner enablement tools, executive health, wellness initiatives, patient portal technologies, remote patient monitoring, and mental health related services. The CEO said, although WELL Ventures will have a global approach, the company’s venture arm will have a strong preference for Canada.
WELL’s investments typically include a strategic alliance agreement that gives its portfolio companies access to WELL’s own tech and resources. Given this, WELL Ventures plans to focus its investments on companies that could be “synergistic” with WELL. “We generally don’t invest in a company unless, a), we believe that there’s existing synergy with WELL, and then, b) we think that potentially we could increase our involvement,” said Shahbazi.
The company has also announced its first official investment through its new venture investment arm: $250,000 CAD in equity funding for Halifax-based healthtech startup Bright, which delivers corporate virtual wellness programs. Bright serves small-to-medium-sized businesses, offering live, interactive virtual wellness classes in fitness, yoga, mindfulness, and nutrition.
As part of the deal, WELL has entered into strategic agreement with Bright to use and sublicense Bright’s offerings to the WELL network and distribution channels. The two companies have agreed to a revenue share arrangement in connection with any revenue generated by WELL through Bright’s technology offering.
Bright, which was formerly known as CribCut, previously focused on connecting mobile hair stylists to clients. In July 2020, the startup announced it had rebranded to Bright and shifted its focus to workplace well-being.
Feature image courtesy of WELL Health