Wellness company and high-end gym machine manufacturer Technogym brings sleek Italian design flair and cutting-edge interconnecting technology to fitness equipment and good living. Its non-profit Wellness Foundation works with public and private organizations to promote attainable, healthy lifestyles that benefit business and society. Technogym’s founder and president Nerio Alessandri explains the genesis of the company, its ethos and evolution, and the mark it is about to make on the US health and fitness sector.
Machine-to-machine interactions are blurring the lines of economic sectors and are linking different sectors together through the Internet of Things (IoT). What is your personal point of view about the emerging trends of IoT, its potential, and synergy with the wellness industry?
We started many years ago to develop not only the product but also the software and the service. It altogether constitutes our Technogym ecosystem. We believe in the seamless user experience. Seamless regarding interface, and seamless regarding usability. When we are talking about the ecosystem, the Internet of Things is the tool.
The Technogym equipment has been connectable since 1997. We started developing product interconnectivity during the Wi-Fi era, and we have a lot of products connected around the world. The Internet of Things means personalization, customization and big data management regarding customer relationships. People need customization regarding not only the configuration of the product, but also about the content.
Regarding synergies, we started the Wellness Valley project in 2012 because we believe in partnerships. The idea was to develop the Romagna area (the eastern part on the coast of the Emilia-Romagna region), creating the first district in the world that forms a benchmark for quality of life.
Using Technogym as the catalyst, we mobilized all stakeholders in Romagna (companies, public administrators, tourism operators, schools, universities and the public health system) to work together to improve public health, boost the economy through the increased manufacture of innovative products and services, and raise the quality of the environment in order to attract more and more qualified people who were in search of a wellness experience.
The new level of innovation in the next couple of years is based on a new business model.
The first phase is about product innovation and the second about service innovations. Now, we need to serve the business model innovation based on partnerships.
In the future, an example of partnership could be the relation with insurance companies. Regular physical exercise and a healthy lifestyle reduce health risks – that’s why they are interested in rewarding active customers taking care of their health.
Do you think Italy has the potential to become a global reference point in terms of shaping the “wellness society”?
The World Expo 2015 in Milan was an incredible opportunity to promote the Italian quality of life, the first ‘Made in Italy’ product. Quality of life means food, technology, design and culture.
More than 25 years ago at Technogym, we launched Wellness, an Italian lifestyle with roots that lie in the philosophy of “Mens sana in corpore sano”, invented 2,000 years ago in ancient Rome.
Without health, humanity isn’t sustainable. Wellness is not about going to the gym three times per week for one hour. Rather, it means good nutrition, a positive approach, and regular physical activity.
In addition to this, wellness represents a great social opportunity – for governments to reduce health service costs, for companies to stimulate their members to be more creative and productive, and for all citizens to improve their health and daily lifestyle.
Can you please tell us the history of Technogym, and how did you get to be the sponsor of choice of global events such as the Olympic Games?
Technogym is based on two passions. One, design and technology—I am an industrial designer. And secondly, the gym—I was very young and passionate about sports. This combination started Technogym. The 33-year success is based on innovation focusing on a healthy planet and healthy people. Our vision is to deliver the wellness solution, not just the machine. We like to customize solutions for corporations, hospitals or universities. Last but not least, our strategy is based on cooperation and provision of the solution through trans-partnerships with clubs, hotels or hospitals chains.
I was on three covers of CBI Magazine, the magazine of the most important fitness and wellness association in the US.
The first with the headline ‘‘The wellness champion – this man is betting on a trend’’; then “Winning with wellness”; and finally “The wellness visionary”. They took my interviews and compared it with the market situation, in order to analyze the market through what I said.
Our corporate social responsibility is based on the promotion of the wellness lifestyle; it is in our DNA and business approach. For this reason I founded the Wellness Foundation 12 years ago in Cesena. The Wellness Foundation is a non-profit organization that cooperates with institutions, schools, universities, research centers, and any private or public body to promote better health through prevention and positive lifestyle behavior. It is a commitment that has inspired projects such as “Gioca Wellness” (Play Wellness) to fight childhood obesity though physical activity, and “Muoviti che ti fa bene” (It’s good to move), a public outdoor physical activity program involving the use of public green spaces. It is a research center about culture, where we engage universities and spread the Wellness Valley project.
In 2011 your “Play Wellness” project was included in Michelle Obama’s “Let’s move for a better world” campaign. When it comes to Technogym’s global presence, what is the role of the American market for your future growth?
That’s a great question. When I went to the US for the first time in 1985, all the cars that I saw looked similar to me. Ten years later, I got there again and saw BMWs, Audis or Mercedes. There has been a change in paradigm from functional cars to lifestyle cars. What does this mean for a business model? They personalize the color, the interior and the family feeling. The same thing happened in the fashion industry. Forty years ago, all clothing was really functional. Then Armani arrived and changed the paradigm regarding the Italian lifestyle. Many Italian and European companies changed this paradigm.
Currently, the US fitness industry is in the same phase the automotive industry was 30 years ago. Design, brand, image and technology are strong components of Technogym’s DNA and we want to leverage those distinctive elements to offer unique solutions to the American clients willing to differentiate. We respect very much the US fitness manufacturers, but we are different.
Steve Jobs used to come to Italy just to experience the lifestyle. He immediately understood the difference in experience and what design meant to us. “Why do I have to build look-alike computers?” he thought, and changed the paradigm with colorful options by introducing design.
You are the youngest “Knight of Labor” in history and “Entrepreneur of the Year” in Italy. Furthermore, in 2003 you were on the cover of Businessweek. What would you like to be your next challenge? What is your vision for Italy?
I believe Italy has a very great potential. We are very creative and so disruptive that it is difficult to plan. Once we focus on a few priorities and concentrate our energy on them, our incredible potential will show up by itself. The first priority is the Wellness Italy project. We will leverage the cultural authenticity of our country starting in Romagna and Cesena. The new Renaissance commences here.
Everybody knows about the Wellness Valley project. During the World Expo 2015, the audience was simply incredible – we had a huge return on the brand through the social campaign we organized there.
As the topic of the World Expo was “Feeding the Planet – Energy for Life”, we created a social campaign called “Let’s Move and Donate Food” – basically everyone could track and measure their movement through the Technogym app and convert physical movement into meals for children in need, thanks to a partnership we developed with the UN World Food Programme.
We are witnesses to a paradox on a global scale. On one hand nearly 2 billion people are either obese or overweight, and on the other hand there are 800 million malnourished citizens. The aim of our campaign was to bring about a real change by promoting physical activity and fighting malnutrition at one and the same time.
Personally, my next step is to help humanity more than today. I would like to increase the support I give to people – to leverage the prevention opportunities; the essence is prevention to create sustainability.