Public Health in Action – Health Doesn’t Have to Cost an Arm and a Leg

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Braden Rawls
CEO, Vital Plan

I met Braden at a startup event coordinated by the Triangle Startup Weekend crew.  I was there as a volunteer, but I met some interesting people and they insisted that I talk with Braden.  The “theme” or scope of that weekend was to drive more women into entrepreneurship since other events consisted of a majority male audience.  From what I heard, the turnout was 70/30 in favor of women and they had some great ideas.  Braden embodies the mentality and determination it takes to succeed and I hope she inspires more women to jump into the entrepreneurship world.

Now let’s get to the interview!

Me: Tell us about Vital Plan and how you got involved.  Start from high school or college and describe your evolution into your current role.

Braden: My major at UNC-Chapel Hill was Public Relations in the Journalism school; I really enjoyed the classes, but wasn’t sure where I wanted to take the degree. Most PR graduates work for an advertising firm after college, but I didn’t feel called to go that route. Towards the end of my sophomore year, I heard about a new “entrepreneurship” minor in the works. I thought that sounded like a good complement to my major and a chance to learn something new.

One class in and I was hooked. We went through case studies of great entrepreneurs over the past century and it was fascinating to me how they were able to turn “problems” into opportunities. I felt a connection immediately to the students and professors in this entrepreneurship community who were also energized by “problem solving.” I decided that I wanted to be an entrepreneur; I just needed an idea! This was before the startup boom in Raleigh/Durham, so there were not a lot of resources for someone who wanted to start a company or work for a startup.

After I graduated, I took a job in Raleigh with a successful entrepreneur as his “right hand” assistant. I learned a ton, but really wanted to pursue my own startup company. Knowing this, my dad presented me with the idea of helping him to turn his passions and expertise around herbal therapy into a scalable business model.  I started working on this nights and weekends, and it quickly became a passion. It took several years of nights and weekends to develop a profitable business where I could go full time and hire staff, but it was worth it. I love what I do, and Vital Plan is well positioned for growth. It’s an exciting time!

Me: What inspires you on a daily basis, especially when things get hard?

Braden: My team at Vital Plan. Everyone has put so much hard work into building this company and it saddens me when I realize there is a possibility that it could all cave in. My father is so passionate and sincere about helping people to improve their health and I think it would be a shame if we cannot succeed in connecting him with the right audience to hear this message. Also our angel investors took a leap to invest in a “non-tech” company and have extended much more of their time than the average investor. I am motivated to make this a success for them in appreciation for their tremendous support and encouragement.

Also, the realization that I need to pay my bills and won’t have a graduate degree or savings to fall back on if Vital Plan doesn’t grow. Ha! That is of course a huge motivating factor once you choose the startup route over grad school or a corporate job.

Me: What do you think it will take for our society to view health more seriously?  As in, why is health lower in priority to careers and education and relationships?

Braden: I think the realization that 95% of health symptoms are being fueled by our own actions is the key. When it sets in for people that their diet or stressful lifestyle makes them feel sick and uncomfortable, they are much likely to step up and take accountability for their actions. It is easy to avoid accountability when you have a mindset that your digestive issues, pain, and fatigue fell out of the sky and made you a victim. When you finally accept that those symptoms are a direct result of your daily actions, such as overindulging in sugar, drinking, or adrenaline, there is no one else to blame and it becomes easier to halt destructive behaviors.

Me: What are some things/concepts/ideas you’ve seen either here in the U.S. or abroad that, if disseminated in an effective way, would change how people think about their own health?

Braden: Stress is a big contributing factor to illness. The good news is, the most effective stress management techniques are free! Learning simple breathing exercises and short meditations to incorporate into your day can make a huge difference. Meditations can be effective before stress hits, because they prepare you to handle difficult situations when they come your way.

And of course I have to plug herbal therapy. America left herbal therapy in the dust years ago for the promise that pharmaceutical treatments offered. While drug therapy can be very powerful in acute situations, there is a lot of power in herbal medicine for managing stress and encouraging wellness. I am so happy to see a movement building in America to embrace natural therapies.

Me: What are the current needs in your city as they relate to social determinants of health (ie SES, poverty, access to care, transportation, safety, etc.)?  Social determinants of health are any factors that directly or indirectly affect health.  For example, being homeless could cause stress and malnutrition which could drastically affect one’s health.

Braden: The 9 to 5 sedentary workday is a huge health threat that is flying under the radar. Sitting at a computer screen all day is terrible for your digestion, cardiovascular health, blood flow, etc. and a contributing factor to obesity. Not to mention that these environments encourage consumption of sugar and processed foods. I think that companies who encourage their employees to take short breaks throughout the day and give them space to accommodate this will go a long way. Offering healthful snacks and limiting sugary temptations like doughnuts and cupcakes is also a huge step in the right direction.

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2 thoughts on “Public Health in Action – Health Doesn’t Have to Cost an Arm and a Leg

  1. Pingback: Public Health in Action – Champions of Change | Switch/Health

  2. Pingback: Public Health in Action – Vital Plan Strives for Impact, One Person at a Time | Switch/Health

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