This startup will help your startup team keep fit on the job

By Tom Jackson

Worried all that time spent coding at a desk is taking its toll on the health of your startup team? Help is at hand in the form of South African company Walk & Work.

Founded 16 months ago by Jan Folmer, Walk & Work is headquartered in Cape Town and has distribution points there and in Johannesburg.

The startup offers workstations that enable people to continue to work while being more physically active, by walking or cycling. The workstations come in the form of either a treadmill or bike desk, and are aimed at combating the negative health effects of a sedentary work day with movement.

“Our aim is to change office spaces where people are predominantly sitting down into a more active work environment, and we provide revolutionary office furniture that increases productivity and energy levels,” Folmer told Disrupt Africa.

The independently financed Walk & Work is the first distributor of treadmill desks and bike desks in South Africa, and Folmer said the potential market is so large the company has no plans to expand anywhere else anytime soon.

“South Africans intrinsically want to be active, however there are a lot of barriers and practical limitations that hinder us to be as active as we want to be, due to safety, the way we commute, and technology,” he said.

“Others do get active with peak exercise a few days a week, however this still doesn’t counteract the negative health risks of sitting for between eight and 12 hours a day. A practical and viable solution to sit less is to integrate a treadmill desk in an office space, or even at home.”

Folmer has been using such desks for years, and swears by them. The treadmill desk allows users to walk slowly, which increases metabolism and burns more calories, while at the same time allowing them to continue writing that report, responding to emails, reading, or watching videos.

“You maintain your productivity, and you’re being more active. Whilst the idea is still a bit quirky to some, it’s actually a no-brainer in a country where obesity is reaching shocking figures, along with Type 2 diabetes,” he said.

“We felt there was a gap in the offering of alternatives to becoming more physically active within the boundaries of day to day constraints of work, commuting and family responsibilities.”

The market is growing globally since its introduction in 2009, with 55,000 treadmill desks sold in the United States (US). Folmer said awareness is increasing, with such workstations also having serious benefits to employers, such as lower healthcare costs, lower absenteeism, and higher productivity.

Walk & Work operates from an office with showroom in Cape Town, and works with resellers.

“We manage to keep overhead costs relatively low. The main challenge is the exchange rate, as these products are being imported,” he said.

“We mostly sell directly to our customers, which helps to fully assist finding a custom solution that best meets the needs. Apart from sales, we also offer rental solutions.”

The company’s aim is to sell and install 700 treadmill desks before the second quarter of 2017, with Folmer saying Walk & Work is heading towards meeting that target. Awareness is a challenge, as with any product that is completely new in a market.

“Most people know that sitting is considered the new smoking, however they’re not aware of alternatives,” he said.

“Luckily the early adopters have ensured a good uptake so far, and we’re only receiving good feedback from our clients. Once you’ve tried it, you’re hooked.”

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