Anne Marie Kirby started laying the foundations for entrepreneurship soon after becoming disillusioned with small-town ideas of achievement.
“I grew up in northern B.C., where people didn’t really go on to post secondary school. The most ambitious thing you could do was work at the local bank, because then you could get promotions and leave town later,” Kirby explained.
“So, after high school I worked at the bank for a few years, but I was working for a manager who didn’t want to promote me until I had six years of experience—so I went back to school for computer programming.”
Kirby soon practiced her programming skills in the health industry, working on hospital information systems. But she quickly found that health prevention and promotion was a more appealing niche.
“I’d rather deal with healthy people,” Kirby said. “But the market wasn’t there yet, so I watched it for a few years before starting my business.”
Kirby co-founded CoreHealth Technologies with Jeff Van Dyk in 2004. The company now provides businesses with a corporate wellness platform that supports two million employees all over the world.
For Kirby, the next major development in health technology will involve a more personalized and more fun way to maintain active lifestyles and engage in healthy behaviour.
“We’re looking at using notifications to bring information to people, rather than having people search out information. Technology can be a lot smarter about presenting the right information at the right time—so in heath tech, we’re moving from a ‘pull’ Internet to a ‘push’ Internet.”
Kirby also says that incorporating deliberate design into wellness programs will be critical in the future. Wellness is a complex problem, she says, and engineering-style thinking that involves multiple iterations of a solution will be a necessary approach.
One key area where Kirby wants to focus her effort is on making health technology accessible and fun for users.
“I’m a huge fan of Pokémon Go,” she said. “It’s the best thing that has ever happened to health and wellness technology. Nintendo has motivated a group of people who wouldn’t normally leave their computers to get out and get active—that’s a huge lesson for the world. I want our industry to start thinking about how people can get healthier by doing things they already want to do.”
Kirby says that the best corporate wellness programs incorporate a strong motivational aspect that promotes healthy habits in a new and exciting way.
“If you go to some of the industry websites, they all talk about the same process. So it’s well documented what has to happen in order to make a wellness program successful, but almost nobody actually does it.”
Kirby says that one of the best examples of making a wellness program fun and motivational comes from a CoreHealth client, employment benefits consultancy Morneau Shepell.
“Morneau Shepell is an Olympic sponsor, so they have contact with Canadian Olympic athletes—and they launched a program that brings athletes into the company to talk to employees about wellness programs. I don’t think you can get more motivational than working with Olympic athletes. Again, it goes back to finding a creative way to get people involved in something relevant and enjoyable.”
Kirby’s philosophy of getting healthy through fun activities extends into her personal life, where she strives to help children and young adults develop healthy habits. She serves as the Rotary Club Youth Exchange Officer for Kelowna, which gives her a prime opportunity to help youth get involved in the community. She’s also an avid skier and sailing enthusiast.
And while Kirby is now managing a successful and respected business, her path hasn’t been without its challenges. One of the biggest challenges she faces in her field is convincing people that they need a wellness solution.
“People don’t value their own health. It’s very illogical, which is a real struggle for me as a (logically-minded) computer person. That’s the hardest thing—employers try to help people, but they don’t want to do anything for their own good.”
Still, Kirby’s passion for health and wellness continues to drive her to promote healthy
behaviours in the workplace—in part because of a wise yet simple lesson she learned from her son.
“When my son was two years old, we were in a restaurant and we had a waitress who was saying that she wanted to go to school, but she couldn’t stop waitressing. My son said, ‘never, ever give up’—and the waitress said, ‘that’s the wisest thing I’ve ever heard.’”
Kirby says that stubborn resilience is what kept her going in spite of industry criticism. During one early investor meeting, she was taken aback when a potential investor told her to get a haircut.
Kirby says that she could have chosen to quit, but decided instead to continue growing CoreHealth out of her love for the industry.
“Wellness is one of the few things that, the more you sell, the better off everyone is. You can be successful and proud at the same time.”
Crowe MacKay’s Women to Watch program is a weekly feature that profiles remarkable women in our community, concluding Oct. 16. After terrific response, the nomination period for 2015 is now closed. Watch this space each week to see our remaining Women to Watch.