Stars shine on fitness and wellness startups

India’s health and fitness focused startups are having a good run this week with two Bollywood celebrities putting their money and might behind promising companies. Deepika Padukone has invested in Drum Foods International Pvt. Ltd, maker of flavoured yogurt Epigamia while Suniel Shetty has invested in Pune-based fitness startup – SQUATS.

Why invest in fitness?

Both these investments are a testament to the fact that young India is evolving and placing fitness higher up on its priority list than ever before.

Key drivers of growth in the health, fitness and wellness segments include increasing accessibility to fitness equipment and sports infrastructure, affordable as well as new age physical fitness training options, rising disposable incomes in urban India, growing awareness especially in small towns, innovative offerings by startups and the rise and rise of wearable technologies.

But these are, by no means, the first investments by celebrities in fitness related startups. Earlier, Mumbai-based startup SARVA raised funds from celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, American basketball legend Alex Rodriguez and Malaika Arora.

Actor, activist and politician Gul Panag invested in MobieFit in 2015 and become a personal running coach on the app while actor Madhuri Dixit Nene picked up a stake in fit-tech and wearable device startup GOQii, Jacqueline Fernandes invested in healthy juice maker Raw Pressery and Hrithik Roshan launched his own brand of workout gear – HRX that was picked up by Myntra and further signed a deal with Cure.Fit to design specialised HRX workouts for the app and its offline fitness centres. Sporting icons like Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Mahesh Bhupathi and others have all made significant startup investments in fitness related companies – mostly their own sportswear brands.

So why do stars love this sector? For one, the total market value of the fitness industry in India is set to reach a whopping $1296 million by 2022. Today’s actors are aware, evolved and financially prudent to see this opportunity. Second, most film actors need to make fitness a part of their daily lives in order to get good film roles, hence they identify with the sector enough at a personal level to invest in it with some knowledge and belief.

Padukone has in fact gone a step ahead of the others by emphasising not just on physical fitness but also sharing personal experiences about seeking help for good mental health. Her own battle with depression inspired her to launch The Live Love Laugh Foundation (non-profit) for mental health – a cause that was hitherto not spoken about by most A-list film stars.

Targeting the millennial nation

Noticing the behavioural change in a growing young population that is deeply concerned about its old age and is taking steps (and measuring them using smart phones or fitness bands) to remain fit, startups today are offering personalised fitness experiences, nutrition counselling, community building initiatives – online as well as offline and tech-driven offerings to create successful business models, generate new revenue streams while also leading young India to good health.

On the nutrition front, some new FMCG brands are selling the western food concepts of kale leaves, quinoa, chia seeds and the likes while others are going back to the roots to highlight the benefits of age old Indian foods like desi ghee, turmeric, amaranth etc. and both these categories are being sold under the ‘organic’ label. In a country of a billion plus people, with more than half the population being under the age of 35 years, it is not surprising that there are enough takers for both.

Win-win for all

Access to fitness through the smartphone has completely changed the game with consumers gaining control and flexibility and no longer being tied to the neighbourhood gym that charged a bomb for an annual membership. Physical fitness startups have unique offers and arrangements for millennials like an annual gym pass or a pay-per-use model that allows them access to all gyms in their vicinity at the swipe of a single smartcard.

Some others have brick and mortar centres that provide training across numerous offbeat activities like zumba, pilates, cross-fit, kick-boxing, spinning, yoga etc. that are gaining popularity with urban youth and yet others are creating an exhilarating ‘phy-gital’ experience – seamlessly combining the physical with the digital and giving consumers the luxury of working out anywhere, anytime with personal coaches available at a mere swipe on their smartphone screens.

The opportunity for financial growth offered by successful startups is not limited to just banks, financial institutions or traditional VC/PE players anymore. In a country that makes demi-Gods out of celebrities, startups realise the pull that a mega star can bring for a brand and see value in diluting stakes to them as they weigh the returns.

Celebrities on their part are also clued into the startup scene and are perhaps attracted by it, knowing that diversifying is a wise option in a career like acting or sports that has a certain shelf life. Connecting with millions of consumers through live chats on social media platforms of brands also adds recall value to stars during phases when their mainstream careers may be seeing certain lows.

Gone are the days when influencers just invested in properties around the world, precious metals or even the stock market. Today’s A-listers are aware of the numerous investment options as well as their long term return potential thanks to their access to the best financial advisors who often put big bucks on tech driven companies.

A fit future

While the fitness industry in India is highly fragmented and unorganised, the demand for products and services is ever growing, making it a sunrise sector for startups that are adding some method to the madness.

New small players are giving traditional legacy players a run for their money by using emerging technologies to create innovative offerings thanks to their digital DNA, agility and ability to analyse humungous big data – using it to predict the customers’ needs and create memorable experiences for them.

Corporate campuses, hospitality chains, residential areas, schools and colleges are all looking at fitness as an important paradigm for de-stressing, rejuvenation, anxiety management and an essential lifestyle habit, driving up the demand further.

Independent industry estimates suggest that wellness will see a boom and a CAGR of at least 12 percent annually for the next few years, making the sector worth $1.5 trillion by 2020 and health experts are hopeful that this revolution of sorts will aid in curbing the increase in lifestyle diseases like obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes and blood pressure.

In the wake of advanced digital technologies giving birth to exciting new products that can predict, prevent and prepare you for the future, the possibilities for health, fitness and wellness startups are indeed unlimited. And the stars? They will shine on!

(Mridu Bhandari is Editor – Special Projects at Network 18. One of India’s youngest Ramnath Goenka Awardees in 2007 for her work on rural development, today Mridu dabbles in many subjects ranging from entrepreneurship, education and emerging technologies to healthcare, brand stories and personal finance! On most weekends, she can be found anchoring special programmes on Network 18 news channels.)