Research at the University of Oulu sparked a startup supporting weight management - What's happening with Onnikka Health now?
Onnikka originated from research conducted at the University of Oulu. A decade ago, the university began research related to weight management, human behavior, change management, and persuasive programming methods. The method was developed by professors Harri Oinas-Kukkonen and Markku Savolainen working at the University of Oulu. Two years ago, the method was commercialized, leading to the creation of Onnikka Health company.
According to Teppo Virkkula, the CEO of Onnikka Health, the company is currently doing well.
"We have made good progress according to our plans. We have pilot programs in progress in Finland (for example, collaboration with Sitra), and Onnikka has become a part of normal healthcare practice. We hoped to progress a bit faster, but the healthcare reform disrupted and slowed us down. Nevertheless, we have made headway, and our visibility is growing," Virkkula describes the company's current situation.
Onnikka is also set to expand into international markets, as the first agreement has just been made with Norway. A Norwegian version of Onnikka has been created, and it is intended to be introduced in the country later this year.
"So, the door is open there as well. It is part of our plans to expand internationally as quickly as possible. We want to help the world in reducing the obesity trend. Obesity rates are increasing worldwide, and with Onnikka, they could start to decrease or at least level off."
On the journey towards better lifestyle choices
As Onnikka expands into new countries, the application needs to be updated and localized to fit into new cultures. However, the foundation is solid, as clinical studies conducted over the years have shown that Onnikka helps users lose weight.
"For example, compared to lifestyle guidance apps available in app stores, Onnikka really works. It is easy to use and reliable, without burdening the user too much. About 70 percent of users complete the entire program, and they voluntarily complete Onnikka stops' tasks. This is a year-long program, so the results are remarkable. In the case of other apps, users usually abandon the programs within the first two weeks," Virkkula explains.
The name Onnikka is a metaphor for a journey, meaning that when using the app, users are getting on board Onnikka, the local bus, and embarking on a journey towards better lifestyle choices. Along the way, there are stops that make the app user reflect on their behavior, emotions, attitudes, and actions.
"Through this, people have realizations and insights that begin to affect their attitudes and, most importantly, their actions. Small lifestyle changes start to occur gradually, becoming ingrained in everyday life. This leads to better habits and, simultaneously, weight loss."
The persuasive method at the core
All the information in the app is based on research, making it reliable. The aim is not to offer recipes or exercise programs but to provide keys, for example, to manage emotional eating or setbacks.
"We use a persuasive method, which is Harri's (Oinas-Kukkonen) specialty."
Programs based on the persuasive method are designed to strengthen, change, or shape attitudes and behavior so that it happens voluntarily. Research related to this method is still ongoing at the University of Oulu, and Oinas-Kukkonen has received funding from the Academy of Finland for the PerFeat research project.
"One of the main datasets being analyzed in this project is the FeelGood study related to Onnikka. So, research related to Onnikka is still actively being conducted and will likely continue for a long time," Oinas-Kukkonen explains.
Currently, Onnikka Health Ltd. has two employees in addition to Virkkula. Oinas-Kukkonen and Savolainen are also involved but in the background. However, the goal is to expand the operation, and according to Virkkula, the company plans to hire more staff in the spring.
"Our revenue is currently on a strong growth trajectory. We are pleased with the situation," Virkkula concludes.