About this project: The 52-week project showcases accomplishments, challenges and opportunities of individuals and businesses run by people of color, women, immigrants, veterans, representatives from the LGBTQ+ community and a few other groups forwarding the mission of diversity, equity and inclusion in the greater Raleigh-Durham metro area. The project also will delve into important trends and issues relating to DEI.
Silver linings are hard to come by in a pandemic-tarnished world, but an elevated appreciation of health and wellness has emerged.
Business leaders are rethinking what it means to support their employees with benefits that reduce stress, restore work/life balance and reinforce resilience.
The global corporate wellness market will approach $42 billion this year after topping $37 billion in 2020, according to Research and Markets, a global insights and analytics firm. R&M estimates the wellness market will reach $72.8 billion by 2026.
Naya Powell, founder and CEO of Utopia Spa and Global Wellness (USGW), expects to take just a sliver of that pie, with an ambitious goal that Utopia will hit $100 million in revenue within the next five years. Powell, who launched USGW in 2018, began by bringing luxury spa services to clients at events and workspaces, from consumers across the Triangle to National Football League players.
In-person services ceased abruptly when Covid hit, but the pivot Powell executed has propelled her into a virtual world that has expanded her services across five continents. “We shifted our focus to scale as a tech-enabled wellness platform,” Powell said, a strategic plan that has been fueled by $100,000 in non-dilutive capital awarded in October from the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund.
“We are using the Google for Startups funds to build out our technology solutions,” she notes. That included a refresh of the website, which went live early this month. “USGW provides on-demand holistic, multicultural wellness classes and experiences, all held virtually, to combat the global stress epidemic that we are facing. Due to the increasing demands of work/life integration, people are overwhelmed, which has resulted in chronic levels of stress that impacts productivity, mental health and overall well-being.”
Powell notes that 83 percent of U.S. workers suffer from work-related stress, a statistic that was reported by the American Institute of Stress in September 2019, months before Covid stressors were added to the mix.
Stress takes a toll across the board, from individual productivity to bottom line profits. A study led by the World Health Organization estimates depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion a year in lost productivity, and Johns Hopkins reports 65 percent of Americans say work is a top source of stress, per data from the American Psychological Association. Research shows U.S. businesses lose up to $300 billion annually as a result of workplace stress and 60 percent of work absenteeism, or roughly 1 million employee absences every day, is attributed to stress.
“Companies are desperately looking for solutions, for all of [those statistics] we’re seeing, and 88 percent of companies are investing in their workplace wellness programs,” Powell said, adding that worker frustrations have led to a “great resignation,” as people are re-evaluating their lives and coping with how the pandemic has disrupted their sense of normalcy.
“People are deciding it’s no longer worth it to be this estranged from family or this burned out; the mental health [challenges] and the time poverty that people are suffering from are causing burn-out at levels we’ve never seen before,” she continues. “All of these things were challenges before Covid. Now they’re accelerated and companies are trying to figure out how to manage this in a hybrid-work environment.”
One of the global companies searching for solutions was Powell’s former employer, Red Hat (NYSE: IBM), where she worked in global talent acquisition and served as vice chair of the employee resource group BUILD (Blacks United in Leadership and Diversity).
“We helped Red Hat solve for a number of things — not only the stress levels, the fear and anxiety of being in the midst of a global pandemic, but also how to focus on resilience and well-being, which is huge for companies, and we do this in a way that is inclusive of global teams,” Powell said.
Through live sessions and on-demand classes, USGW enabled Red Hat associates to gather virtually and maintain a sense of personal connection even when travel and in-person meetings were not feasible.
“The Utopia Spa and Global Wellness corporate membership offered a brilliant opportunity for our global marketing team to address mental and physical wellness that was otherwise unavailable during the pandemic,” said Natalie Duncan, project manager of Red Hat’s Global Demand Center. “Additionally, the fact that the classes were both live and on-demand was a big plus; especially [because] we have a global team across multiple continents [and] time zones.”
USGW has also provided curated mindfulness sessions for Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) as well as services for WeWork and American Underground, and the company works with the collaborative partnership between N.C. Central University and Duke University to provide mindfulness-based stress relief programming for faculty, staff and students at both schools.
Undi N. Hoffler, director of the research compliance and technology transfer division of Research and Sponsored Programs at NCCU, said they began working with USGW in 2020 and the engagement has been extended through 2022.
“We’re building out programming in order to have mindfulness sessions continuously offered and we’re also looking at having it as part of our public health [instruction],” she said. “Within the department of public health, we want to work with Naya to provide a certification in mindfulness for our students, because they can utilize mindfulness in their practice after graduation.”
Hoffler adds that USGW is also delivering mindfulness presentations to AME Zion HEAL. The AME Zion Health Equity Advocates and Liaisons (HEAL) is a partnership between AME Zion churches in North Carolina and Duke Health that is working to reduce health disparities in underserved communities, striving to cultivate trust and dispel negative perceptions of clinical trials and research among people of color.
“My goal is to add 12 new global clients within the next 18 months and increase revenues to $20 million,” Powell said. USGW revenues increased 50 percent from 2020 to 2021, but she declined to say the dollar amount.
“I bootstrapped the start of the company,” she said, adding that in addition to $100,000 in non-dilutive capital the Google for Startups award provides technical support and tools including $120,000 in search ads and $100,000 in Google cloud credit. The $100,000 in funding will be allocated 30 percent to technical development, 20 percent for business development, 15 percent to digital strategy, another 15 percent to operations, and 10 percent each to recruitment and professional services.
‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort