Newton startup Wellcoin makes fitness pay

Runners

People of a certain age remember Green Stamps — little coupons, good for discounts or free swag, that consumers would receive at the supermarket checkout line. Now a Boston doctor is reviving the concept in a bid to make physical fitness pay off.

Wellcoin offers rewards to consumers when they visit the gym, jog a mile or two, or eat a healthy meal, or even when they make a blood donation.

“Wellcoin developed the world’s first health currency,” said Wellcoin co-founder Glenn Laffel, a former cardiac transplant physician at Boston’s Brigham & Women’s Hospital with a doctorate in health policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Laffel’s co-founder, JP Pollak, holds a doctorate in computer science from Cornell University.

Wellcoin members track their activities using a smartphone app for Apple or Android devices. To prove they’ve been working out, users can link Wellcoin to popular fitness tools like the RunKeeper app or the Fitbit wearable body monitor. Or a user can take photographs of her morning run, the salad she’s having for lunch, or her visit to the company fitness center.

In exchange, the user gets Wellcoins — digital tokens that can be exchanged for gift cards and discounts from companies like Whole Foods Market, Reebok, Puma, Skechers, Sports Authority and Dick’s Sporting Goods. The noontime salad might earn the user 20 Wellcoins, while a vigorous workout might be good for 60.

Members get the maximum possible number of Wellcoins when they use a software app or fitness device to verify that they’ve really worked out. Photo evidence can be faked, but Wellcoin will reject photos that have been used more than once or are more than a day old. In addition, Wellcoin users get rewards for rating each other’s photos. The higher the image is rated, the higher the payout in Wellcoins.

“We’re trying to create a community of people who care about their health,” said Laffel. And who want to profit from it.

Hiawatha Bray is a technology reporter for the Boston Globe. E-mail him at h_bray@globe.com.
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