WellolaProblem Lived; Problem Solved

With 17 years as a physiotherapist with the HSE, Sonia Neary had experienced the every-day challenges of managing appointments and maintaining secure medical notes while working on the move and mainly in patients’ homes. She also knew that these were headaches for lots of other physiotherapists and their patients. Most importantly, she felt that she could come up with a remedy.

Sonia availed of some mentoring from her Local Enterprise Office to talk through her business idea and sketch out an initial business plan. Having successfully secured some Feasibility funding, she left her job with the HSE and launched PhysioLinked, (a precursor to Wellola). PhysioLinked provided an online platform supporting the ‘physio at home’ care model. Physios could sign up to the platform which allowed them to manage their patient communications on the move, schedule appointments and keep secure patient notes. It also allowed citizens to book and pay for appointments with physiotherapists listed on the system.

Building Early Momentum

Building a customer base from a standing start is a challenge for any business. With an online proposition, Sonia quickly recognised how crucial digital marketing would be and how deficient her own skills were in this area: ‘I was just about able to use Facebook!’ She made the most of the digital marketing courses on offer with the LEO and availed of a Trading Online Voucher to support her digital marketing drive. Gradually, all this helped PhysioLinked make ‘small but steady steps forward’ and helped Sonia herself to grow in digital-marketing confidence.

New Frontiers and the Search for a Scalable Model

As the business began to grow, Sonia could see how it would be difficult to scale the service aspect of the business through which customers could book sessions with physiotherapists listed on the PhysioLinked platform. She could also see that large healthcare providers were struggling with the same fundamental problems like sharing clinical data securely and remotely.

Taking part in the New Frontiers Programme at TU Dublin’s Tallaght Campus helped Sonia sharpen her focus on scaling-up. While PhysioLinked targeted self-employed healthcare professionals, the emphasis now changed to providing large customers like the NHS Trusts and Hospitals with a platform that would empower their patients in terms of booking appointments, accessing clinical data and viewing their own clinical records. Wellola was launched to address that need and, crucially, to put patient data in patients’ hands.

With Priming funding from LEO South Dublin, Sonia was able to begin building out her team to develop the technology associated with this new focus.

Investment for Growth

The new Wellola offering was quickly embraced by a number of organisations in the UK, offering good early validation of the company’s revised offering. The pandemic accelerated demand, but further growth was going to require a bigger team and funds to support marketing and sales activity, so Sonia began the process of becoming a High Potential Start-Up client of Enterprise Ireland and engaging with investors. In 2022, the company raised in excess of €1m in investment from Spark Crowdfunding, Enterprise Ireland and BVP, an EIIS investment fund, helping to support growth throughout the UK.

Key Challenges

For Sonia, key challenges along the way have been building out the team (which now numbers 19) with the right people. The company uses a number of methods to remain competitive and attractive to talented staff. It offers an internship programme and/or a contract-model prior to hiring, allowing both the company and the contractor to get to know each other before entering into an employment context.

Honing product-market fit (making sure your product matches whatever problem or need your customer has) takes time. Sonia would advise other founders to do all they can to validate their assumptions, test concepts and product changes with minimal expense. Wireframes and mock-ups can be used to gather valuable feedback from subject matter experts and potential customers, and they cost a lot less than building new tech!

Words of Advice

When Sonia looks back to the very early days, she feels that engaging with LEO mentoring helped her put shape on her initial concepts and go about getting some validation from potential users. While the prospect of leaving a permanent pensionable job was a little scary, working through her plans with a mentor helped her figure out how to reduce risk in different ways and to believe that she could make it all happen. ‘Go talk to your LEO; knock on the door and get a sense of the different supports that are available to you. You’ve nothing to lose!’

For more info on Wellola see HERE