PH startup fuses tech, fitness regimen to help people live healthier lifestyle

By Espie Angelica A. de Leon

In 2017, two years after graduating from the University of the Philippines in Diliman with a degree in electronics and communications engineering, Gia Santos found her “chaperone.”

Valea Health CEO and co-founder Gia Santos at the launch of the 2019 IdeaSpace startup competition in Greenbelt 2, Makati City

This chaperone, however, did not accompany her through the dizzying turns and uphill climbs of the dating world. Instead, it led her to the heart, nooks, and crannies of the startup world.

“I would think of [it] as our strict chaperone to the startup field where we were introduced to the different areas of the industry,” Santos, 24, told Newsbytes.PH.

The chaperone she was referring to was IdeaSpace Foundation, the PLDT-backed accelerator program for science and technology-based startups.

Now the chief executive officer and co-founder of SMS and chat-based health coach Valea Health, Santos and her group which included Dr. Lorraine Faeldon and software engineer James Faeldon, joined IdeaSpace’s startup competition in 2017. At that time, their startup project was HeartSmart, an adaptive exercise device for cardiac rehabilitation patients.

The IdeaSpace journey

Being a licensed electronics and communications engineer, her focus then was the technical side of HeartSmart. “We thought that by talking to one potential user, that was enough validation already,” she recalled. “How naive of us.”

Instead, IdeaSpace made them see the bigger picture. The program, through a five-day bootcamp in its pre-acceleration phase, provided them with mentors for team development, marketing, branding, communications, product development, business development, and others.

“The mentorship was very holistic. It wasn’t just focused on ‘You have to have this product, you have to make it successful, you have to make money,’” Santos said. “They gave us tough love. They’re like parents who only want what’s best for you.”

IdeaSpace also helped them set and track their goals. They attended workshops and training as well, with Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and other industry giants. Plus, they were also able to incorporate as a company.

With the $10,000 grant, Santos and company were able to mount marketing events, go into product development, and purchase the components for their prototype. Funding likewise enabled the team to test their hypothesis.

“Our hypothesis with HeartSmart was that by providing an Internet of Things (IoT) telerehab device for cardiac rehabilitation patients and partnering with gyms, patients would find it easier and more convenient to do their cardiac rehab, thus improving health outcomes,” explained Santos. “By testing this hypothesis through real world experiments (patients using the product), we were able to get real insights.”

Gia Santos (2nd from left) and COO Ia Hernandez (right) joined forces earlier this year to form Valea Health. With them are co-founders James Faeldon, CTO and Dr. Lorraine Faeldon, CMedO

A health tech startup evolves

Though HeartSmart was doing well, it was these insights that spurred the group to pivot to a new undertaking — Valea Health.

The entrepreneur-cum-health and fitness advocate shared that patients would have their cardiac health sessions with HeartSmart regularly. In between these sessions, the patients would text them, asking for advice about the right diet, exercise, and other concerns.

It was then that they spotted the problem: After their cardiac rehab sessions, do these patients exercise properly? Do they eat properly? Do they take medicines properly? These were the questions that had to be dealt with. And they felt they had the answers.

Thus, HeartSmart evolved into Valea Health. Powered by artificial intelligence, IoT, and mobile technology, it provides daily health advice and reminders to users via SMS and Facebook Messenger.

The health tech startup also has capabilities for health risks and lifestyle assessment, data logging and tracking, and connecting users to health experts, among others.

Valea Health is actually the product of the merging between HeartSmart and Fit Access, a fitness platform providing users with curated wellness solutions and on-demand coaching. Fit Access was owned by Ia Hernandez, an international athlete, fitness coach, and yoga teacher who was Santos’ batchmate in IdeaSpace’s 2017 program. It was in 2018 that they decided to join forces.

Hernandez is now co-founder and chief operations officer for Valea Health. Meanwhile, Dr. Lorraine serves as chief medical officer and James as chief technology officer. They are joined by other dedicated professionals in the health and startup industries.

Though still anchored on cardiac rehab principles like its predecessor, Valea Health goes beyond heart patients to embrace everyone desiring to have a healthier lifestyle — whether one is diabetic, prone to hypertension, high cholesterol, stress, or whatnot.

A year after their IdeaSpace journey, Valea Health is now gaining promising traction and onboarding major company clients. The team is also raising $200,000 for their angel/seed round.

For the success they are reaping now, Santos credits IdeaSpace as their first parents in the startup industry, their “chaperone,” so to speak.

The Valea team with friends and colleagues during a ‘Yoga with Valea’ session

Starting in 2019, IdeaSpace will be selecting 20 startups for the accelerator program instead of the usual 10. At the same time, the foundation will begin awarding the top three startups with P1-million equity funding each.

“I’m a fan of this new format,” Santos said. “IdeaSpace is able to maximize the fund by providing just the right amount of funding to the 20 finalists for them to get to a stage wherein they need to grow and scale. At the same time, they’re also addressing one of the problems that startups usually encounter after the program – where to now? By providing P1-million equity funding for the top three startups, they will be able to focus on the ones who would really need the money for scaling.”

IdeaSpace Foundation is now accepting applications for the 2019 startup competition. Deadline for filing of applications is January 18, 2019.

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