Editor's spotlight: Startup focus

Startup Spotlight: Entrepreneur swaps management for mindfulness with wellness app

By Nikki Cutler

- Last updated on GMT

Getty | Dragon Images
Getty | Dragon Images
A former managing director turned entrepreneur from Barcelona has swapped management for mindfulness with a health coach app that teaches the importance of nutrition for a healthy body and mind.

Abir Mehawej, co-founder of BeYou, realised the need for an app which teaches the link between nutrition and the mind after she reached a ‘burnout’ at work and decided to reset her health with a week-long ‘wellness detox retreat’.

“After working for 10 years as an MD of an international business I reached a burnout,"​ she told NutraIngredients. "I felt almost toxic, as though my body wasn’t working as it should be.

“I decided to go on a wellness detox week in Alicante; this is where I learnt that food affects the mood and the need of considering the three pillars of wellness for a healthy body and mind: Fitness, nutrition and emotional well-being. The equilibrium comes from mental wellness and a healthy diet.​"  

The course taught Mehawej about the macrobiotic diet which is all about the balance of the different food groups – 45% vegetables, 35% greens and a small quantity of protein.

“I learnt the importance of fuelling my body with the right foods. The diet isn’t about counting calories or starving yourself, it’s about eating whole foods that give you the energy you need.”

Revitalised and inspired by her detox week, the businesswoman decided to leave her job and enlist the help of serial entrepreneur Mario Massarelli, to build an app that follows the principle of the three pillars of well-being.

As well as learning the importance of whole foods for her energy, she realised how the food she ate impacted her mind.

“How we feel, mentally, has a big impact on the food we eat and what we eat has a big impact on our mood. If we starve ourselves then we lack energy and we become unhappy, then we make less healthy decisions in what to eat.

I wanted to create an app that wasn’t about losing 10 kilos or building a six pack but about helping the user find the best version of themselves.”

Shortly after developing the app, in March 2015, the business idea was selected as one of five start-ups in Europe to join Technogym’s wellness accelerator and receive investment.

The app went live in 2016 and now, with a multi-national team of 10 employees, BeYou provides intelligence from certified health coaches in fitness and nutrition, registered dietitians, health coaches and wellness coaches.

Rather than giving users ‘close-ended’ meal plan options, the app gives users access to a database of two million recipes, allowing users to choose those that best fit their food lifestyles, allergies, national cuisines, cooking times and skill-sets.

BeYou is also a startup in the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) rising food stars programme, and has received funds from the EIT to build more research and expertise in personalised nutrition and combating obesity using new technologies 

Mobile motivation

As well as being flexible, the app has a newly added motivational tool. Thanks to a partnership with a coupon platform, it can now provide rewards to those who meet their individual targets.

“Rewards are based on personalised targets. So, for example, if you normally walk 5,000 steps every day then we might encourage you to walk five or ten per cent more each day and if you manage this the app will unlock a coupon for a discount or for a voucher to spend in a health food shop or free entrance to a gym.

“When we added the reward system it doubled usage of the app. Users who were using the app once a week are now checking it ten times a day.”

Sleep 2.0

While the BeYou app is currently based on the three pillars of total wellness – fitness, nutrition, and emotional status - Mahawej is in the process of creating a '2.0' version which includes a fourth pillar – sleep.

“It's important to get at least seven hours sleep every night to keep the mind healthy," ​she says. 

"If, for some reason, you can’t sleep at night then it’s important to try to nap or at least rest the body and mind in another way – yoga and meditation are very good for this.

"There are many hormones, like cortisol, which are influenced by the amount of sleep we get. These hormones affect how much enery we have, how hungry we get, how quickly we feel full and how much fat we store."

The fledgling business founder has experienced how a lack of sleep can impact diet and overall well-being.

She explains: “Working in management I was only concentrating on one of the four pillars of wellness – exercise – but I wasn’t eating healthily and I was very stressed and I wasn’t sleeping well.

“Now I feel more balanced in my daily life. I give more importance to organising myself and prioritising my time effectively to better manage my stress and making sure I get enough sleep and time to rest my mind.

“This is really important for entrepreneurs too; as a startup entrepreneur I now have to be super organised and set priorities, eat well and exercise.

"As a startup business owner, I have 10 times more work than when I was an MD but I feel so much more at ease with my work because my mind is healthier.”   

The eager entrepreneur is currently testing the proposed sleep algorithm and hopes to launch the 2.0 version in mid 2019. 



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