Helen Pak-Harvey, Ph.D., is founder & CEO, of Wholistics, a company based in Durham, N.C., that provides individualized health services. We thought the story of how she came to found this company was worth telling.
Q. It appears that you founded WholisticsHeath in 2015 after working for a couple of health-related companies. What motivated you to strike out on your own and form your own company? Was this a little scary for you?
A. I’ve had a passion for health and wellness, mostly driven by some of the health issues I had to face. The stress of completing my doctorate in organic chemistry, then working in industry and having a family all added up resulting in my health issues that culminated in my early 40s. After ‘firing’ my primary doctor who told me that it was all in my head, I started my journey to research and try modalities and healthy living practices. As I started to feel more vibrant with the lifestyle changes that I had made, people around me started to ask me for advice. That was when the light bulb went off and I realized that there is a need for evidence-based advice and guidance on healthy living and disease prevention. And Wholistics was created.
Absolutely I was scared but fear can be a great motivator. I am OK with fear but, rather than having it control me, I use it to stay disciplined and being true to Wholistics’ mission. We are all humans so needless to say that there were plenty of sleepless nights but if I had to do it all over again, I would still do it.
Q. What challenges and obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them? What lessons did you learn?
Many challenges and obstacles – I haven’t overcome all of these yet but I’m learning a lot of lessons:
- No knowledge of start-ups: I have been working only in the corporate environment since the 90s and had NO clue of what it takes to start, manage or raise funds. I’m a lot smarter from experiences and the many mistakes I made. One thing I can proudly say is that I’m a VERY fast learner.
- No funding: I had time in between corporate jobs to create the IP and process for how Wholistics would function but no funding to actually build anything else. So I went back to the corporate world for two years to self-fund the build of the Wholistics digital platform.
- No other team members: It’s hard to get funding or run a business with a company of one. Since I did not have a cofounder who shared my mission, I’ve had to manage this on my own with part-time help of advisors. This continues to be a challenge today.
Q. Please describe the mission of WholisticsHeath and why it is important for health care. How did you come up with the idea?
A. Wholistics is founded on the principle that health and wellness is not ONLY for those who can afford it or understand it. Our mission is to disseminate easy-to-digest, evidence-based guidance on healthy living using a whole person-centered approach (mind and body). Our chatbot program is focused on delivering microdoses of coaching to drive positive, incremental behavior change. Why is this important?
- The underserved population are at great risk for poorer health outcomes due to lack of access, knowledge and resources. Wholistics is a channel to reach the hard-to-reach via our chatbot program which is delivered directly to the user’s cell phone. What we found is that most people, even the under-resourced, have mobile phones.
- The “ADD” syndrome – we are all too distracted by the environment around us and have short attention spans. Microdosing content allows the user to stay engaged with us as it takes only about 30 seconds each day
- We have an epidemic of chronic lifestyle diseases like diabetes and cancer not only in the U.S. but globally. Most of this is driven by poor lifestyle choices but the reality is, people do not like to change (much). Our chatbot program is designed to promote steady, positive, incremental behavior change as it runs throughout the year and gently nudges the user to establish healthy lifestyle habits. (Here’s a sample chat message.)
Q. What’s the one most important piece of advice you would give to young people contemplating a career as an entrepreneur?
A. Don’t start a venture thinking you are gonna strike it rich. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and labor that no one (but you) will appreciate with constant worries about how you will pay the bills. Start with the passion and then the money will come. (I’m still waiting for mine but feel confident that it will happen.. Regardless of where Wholistics goes, I’m fulfilled by the fact that I’m doing my part to help our citizens achieve healthier lifestyles.