3 Ann Arbor-based health technologies that will help you keep your New Year's resolutions

As this long year comes to a close next week, many of us will be thinking about how to take better care of each other and ourselves in 2017.

Whether you're looking to boost your energy and overall sense of purpose or just for a nudge getting to the gym or pool, these three Ann Arbor health-tech startups are developing the applications and tech-driven services that could help you, or your employees, with health and wellness resolutions in the new year and beyond.

1. JOOL Health
The purpose-driven life coach

When users launch the JOOL Health mobile application for the first time, they face some big questions.

"You start by actually crafting a life purpose and thinking about that," says Brian McCormick, JOOL's director of marketing and business development. "What is important in my life from a personal perspective, from a work perspective, from a community, and from a family perspective? What are my core values?"

The idea is to create a positive, custom wellness program focused on what users care about most, as opposed to the "fear-based approach of death and disease," McCormick says.

Every day, users report to JOOL on their energy, willpower, and "SPACE" — which stands for sleep, presence, activity, creativity, and eating  — as well as two more outcomes they want to track (think migraines or arthritis flare-ups). JOOL is compatible with more than 150 biometric devices, so your Garmin or FitBit can feed JOOL info about you, too. Then JOOL gathers what it knows about your local environment, from the weather to gas prices to recent economic news.

"After 10 days of use, you'll be able to go in and see, 'How does the lunar cycle impact my energy and willpower? Do I have more energy at the beginning of the month or the end?" McCormick says. "Or, 'How does the temperature impact my ability to manage my sleep, or my mindfulness, and how does creativity impact that, in addition to these two personal outcomes you want to track?"

Ultimately, the app produces an individualized "forecast" for users' energy, willpower, and other chosen outcomes, which they can use as a wellness guide.

The app's predictive modeling is based on several years of research led by CEO and founder Dr. Vic Strecher, professor at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health and director for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship, as well as number-crunching help from Virginia-based IT management giant Booz Allen Hamilton, which is a 15 percent equity partner.

Currently, JOOL is licensed to employers, health plans, and other care providers, but the company will consider making it available for individuals in 2017. For now, employers are using it to help improve health and resiliency and reduce defensiveness among employees, McCormick says. The app is used by more than 3,000 individuals, with more signing on each month.

For health administrator and former thoracic surgeon Vita McCabe, the app has been a helpful tool in reminding her and her colleagues to "put on their own oxygen masks" as they help others. McCabe works for a tertiary medical center in Ann Arbor that she hopes will incorporate JOOL into a wellness program for its physicians. She's been piloting the app herself with a few colleagues and thinks it can help combat burnout.

"You know how you have a list of 10 things you need to do, and you might do the nine before you do the one thing that's really bugging you?" she asks. "[JOOL] helps me to focus on the one thing. Because when I get down right away and take care of it, I am completely present and available."

2. ShapeLog
The invisible personal trainer

ShapeLog users have to answer just one question to get started: Do you want your workout tracked? Say "yes," and you'll get a report emailed to you immediately following your workout that details what you did and what you should focus on next time.

ShapeLog CEO Brian Hayden says the idea behind the strength training analytics company's service is to make it easy for people to analyze their workouts without having to enter any data.

"When people go to the gym, they can work out without carrying any sort of gadget and have their workout tracked, and we use the data from every workout to provide accountability and motivation and guidance about what to do next," Hayden says. "We do the same things a personal trainer would do at a lower cost and for more people."

Once ShapeLog's sensors are installed on a partnering gym's machines, they measure users' power and work over time and can identify users by the unique tension they exert on a piece of equipment. The company is currently running pilot programs at three Anytime Fitness gyms in and around Ann Arbor, where participants are taking part in tracked classes. Hayden says the company's biggest challenge will eventually be providing the same level of experience to a much wider audience.

Anytime's Ypsilanti franchise has been running ShapeLog pilot classes for about a month. The gym's general manager, Scott Wiesler, says the classes have been a good opportunity for users to get some feedback on machines that "don't normally give any kind of response." Wiesler sees a value in members eventually being able to come into the gym by themselves and get their feedback automatically.

"I think that it will make it much more engaging for the members, which in turn will not only keep them following through on their fitness regimen, but having more success while doing it," he says.

Weightlifting programs typically bring elite athletes or bodybuilders to mind, but Hayden's been pleasantly surprised with the response from casual gym-goers so far.

"That's the thing that's most exciting for me," Hayden says. "The people who are using our product right now tend to be people who have felt sort of shut out from strength training."

3. MySwimPro 
The swim coach on your wrist

A lifelong swimmer and U.S. Masters swim coach, Fares Ksebati used to get frequent requests for personalized workouts, training plans, and technique tips.

"There are very limited resources available to help swimmers reach their goals," Ksebati says. "The best alternative is to hire a personal coach, but that's expensive."

After multiple swimmers offered to pay him for his expertise, Ksebati began work on the idea that became the MySwimPro app for the Apple Watch.

Part digital instructor, part record keeper, and all swimming-specific, MySwimPro has made something of a splash, netting more than 100,000 downloads since launching in 2015 and taking part in the University of Michigan's Desai Accelerator program this summer.

Users get customized workouts and instruction aimed at helping swimmers of all different levels achieve their fitness goals. By syncing with an iPhone, swimmers can access hundreds of workouts based on skill level, stroke, and workout length, and the app also offers a log for tracking progress.

"From the moment you launch the app, you're just three taps away from a personalized workout," Ksebati says. "The digital community we're building is unique and empowers competition and accountability."

The first swimming app designed for the Apple Watch, MySwimPro was named an Apple Watch App of the Year, as selected by Apple Store editors earlier this month.

"Being recognized among industry leading software companies is a great opportunity for us to showcase our team's development talent," Ksebati says.
Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.
Photos by Doug Coombe.
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