Tech Giants: Heka Health’s Tony Salah on Turnkey Wellness Challenges for Events and 365 Community Engagement
If you asked Tony Salah what he was most passionate about when he started his career, business and technology would have topped the list, considering his degree in electrical engineering along with an MBA from Harvard. Fast forward several years when a family health issue arose, and he suddenly became laser-focused on the inefficiencies within the healthcare system and wellness as tool to prevent illness.
“It became deeply meaningful to me and ignited my passion to combine my technology and business background with the health and wellness space,” Salah said. “I saw so much need and so many ways to make a really positive impact.”
In 2015, he founded Heka Health, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform that provides custom-branded, turnkey health and wellness solutions for companies, non-profits, associations and other entities. To date, one of the company’s fastest-growing segments has been conferences, trade shows and other events, where unique, rewarding and engaging wellness challenges align the interests of all stakeholders, including organizers, attendees and sponsors.
The programs can include step competitions and other wellness activities such as meditation and yoga, CSR elements and prize giveaways to gamify the experience for attendees, while giving sponsors a powerful way to market themselves.
We sat down with Salah to find out how Heka Health stepped into the events industry and started blazing new trails, why wellness challenges make rewarding engagement tools for everyone involved, and how they can help build and sustain community year-round.
How did Heka Health get into the events industry, and why is it such as an ideal fit for wellness challenges?
Our first customer was the American Diabetes Association, which wanted to do a walking challenge for their scientific sessions event. I had a connection there, and AstraZeneca became the sponsor. I didn't know much about the events industry, but it was perfectly aligned with what we were trying to do—leverage our technology and satisfy this quest for wellness while supporting the objectives of everyone involved. The events industry was a sweet spot because they have this long-standing relationship with their community and wanted to support their desire for wellness. They just needed the tools, which we could provide. They are looking at ways to engage and support their communities, as well as sustainable models to increase sponsorship revenue. Meanwhile, sponsors really want to support people’s wellness and find new ways to engage them with more experiential marketing initiatives, so the wellness challenge is a rewarding win-win for all constituents.
Can you give us an overview of Hela Health’s wellness challenge options and benefits?
We create custom-designed turnkey challenges for in-person, virtual and hybrid events. There are several wellness activities for the mind, body and soul that can be incorporated, such as walking, marathons, yoga, meditation, social connection, gratitude journals, social media posting and more. Participants earn wellness points for completing the activities. The activity data integrates with Fitbit, Garmin, Apple Watch, Google Fit and Apple Health, and we can also provide custom-branded trackers. The programs include a custom-branded app, leaderboard and promotions. We gamify the challenges to boost engagement among attendees and sponsors by offering prizes for winners and drawings for certain categories. We also provide challenge results and a summary analysis at the end of the program.
What are some of your most successful wellness challenge programs at events?
In November, we did IMEX America 2021 in Las Vegas again, which was sponsored by Maritz Global Events and presented by Caesars Entertainment. Collectively, challenge participants accumulated more than six million steps and engaged in more than 900 different bonus wellbeing activities, including the popular Social Connect feature, IMEXRun, 15-minute meditation sessions, a gratitude journal and donating to ECPAT, an industry cause to fight human trafficking. Caesars gave away daily step goal prizes such as tickets to the LINQ High Roller and LINQ Zipline. Another great success story was the Association of Endodontists (AAE) 2020 Rotary Virtual Convention Challenge. Highlights included 4,000-plus participants from more than 150 countries, more than 115 million cumulative steps/wellness points, more than 7,000 bonus activity engagements and 19,000 daily challenge emails with an average 50% open rate.
How can wellness challenges help build and sustain community?
Wellness doesn’t have to be a one-time thing that you use at your annual event. If you're really going to create community, you should be supportive throughout the year. It’s not only engaging the end user, but it also has the sponsors supporting year-long initiatives. A perfect example is a two-year initiative we have with the School Nutrition Association that initially stemmed from a wellness challenge at their event. They now do quarterly challenges with their community that have had thousands of participants because it’s so engaging. The sponsor is Jennie-O, which is focused on healthy food products. It’s been very successful. You start to lose people’s attention after one event, so this is a way you can keep them engaged and thinking about their health and wellness.