Start-up of the week: Coachademy

11 Apr 2016

Coachademy’s founding team: Mauro Fontanari, Michelle Franke and Laura Fontanari

Our start-up of the week is Coachademy, which produces an app for corporate wellness that helps manage stress and boost productivity.

Coachademy is an international, Dutch-based start-up currently growing in the beautiful landscape of H-FARM Ventures, the major Italian Incubator located in Venice, Italy, and accelerated by Technogym, the lead player in the wellness industry.

The company will be will be one of the many European start-ups presenting at the Uprise start-up festival in Amsterdam on 20 and 21 April.

‘22pc of European workers suffer from too much stress. 60pc of work leaves are related to stress. This is costing companies in Europe some €20bn’

“Coachademy is an app for corporate wellness that offers online coaching to manage stress [and] improve work-life balance and productivity,” explained Michelle Franke, co-founder and CEO.

“It is offered to companies as a corporate benefit for their employees.”

The company has just launched a desktop version of the app, making it possible for non-iOS users to connect with a coach in real-time and get professional wellness advice.

The market

“We are all familiar with stress,” Franke said. “And the facts don’t lie about it: 22pc of European workers suffer from too much stress. 60pc of work leaves are related to stress. This is costing companies in Europe some €20bn.

“But there is also another problem, which is the stigma around asking for support. In the Netherlands, 45pc of employees think it means they cannot handle their job.

“Coachademy is a dedicated platform that offers an accessible, empowering, and confidential channel to connect and seek the advice of licensed, professional coaches.

“As such, we target the corporate wellness market. This market is booming right now as employers are seeking new ways to lower health costs, increase productivity and retain talent. And all this, while being innovative.”

The founders

Behind Coachademy is an international team of five, with four nationalities represented.

The three founders, Michelle Franke, Mauro Fontanari and Laura Fontanari, started developing Coachademy in 2015 as a distributed team in Amsterdam and Trento, Italy.

‘That is what makes the success of a start-up: the amazing people putting blood, sweat and tears into it’

“Our backgrounds are all quite different, which can be frustrating at times, but is actually a major strength: each of us looks at the product from a very different perspective,” said Franke.

“We bring these viewpoints together in one single strategy.”

Franke has a background in art history and five years of experience in communications and coordination of art projects.

Mauro, the chief product officer, is a talented UX designer. Before co-founding Coachademy, he was working in a company developing financial software.

Laura, the chief community officer, is a psychologist and has a PhD in cognitive neuroscience. She takes care of the quality of the service and the community of coaches.

“Within a few months, we were accepted for the Wellness Accelerator powered by Technogym at H-FARM Ventures, the major Italian Incubator in Venice, Italy,” explained Franke.

“Recently, we moved back to Amsterdam, and enlarged the team with two incredibly talented guys: Kacper Sulak, online marketer, and Benjamin Grima, mobile developer.

“All this, while reaching some great milestones: an angel investment by Wellness Holding, a European grant from FIWARE Finodex, a programme funded by the European Commission, and partnerships with Technogym, the University of Padova and the University of Twente,” said Franke.

The technology


Coachademy is an app to create meaningful connections between users and professional, licensed coaches, to get advice and improve wellness at work.

“Therefore, the core of the app is the real-time matching and, through chat or calls, connecting users with professional coaches.

“Users just open the app, browse through the online available professionals and immediately start a chat. Each coach has a profile where you can see details such as name, photo, age, specialisation and a very short bio.

‘We believe that what makes us happy at work is to do great stuff with others’

“This makes it easier to chose the right professional for you. In a special Corporate Dashboard, anonymous and aggregated data is given back to the company as feedback to improve the workplace in a lasting way.

“Needless to say, everything happens within a secure and private platform. In addition, for us it is very important to guarantee the quality of the coaches. We therefore have a thorough selection procedure for a coach to start working on Coachademy,” Franke said.

She pointed out that the ultimate goal is to improve people’s quality of life and the reality is that work is an important part of people’s lives.

“Imagine: on average, we work 40 hours a week for 40-45 years.

“In a lifetime, this comes down to an impressive 101 thousand hours one spends working.

“How do you feel about your career? Are you happy with your job? Why? Eventually, we believe that what makes us happy at work is to do great stuff with others. By offering the most accessible channel for online coaching, we want to help people worldwide get the most out of their jobs and be great at what they do.”

Closing the first deals

Currently, Coachademy is in beta with its iOS and web app.

“It is going very well. We see a lot of interest in our solution. As said before, stress and corporate wellness are more topical than ever. And even big, international companies are more and more open to collaboration with a start-up to find new and innovative HR solutions. Hence, we are closing our first deals with companies and starting a pilot with the insurance company AXA.

“We received a first angel investment and the European Fiware Finodex grant. To further scale up and internationalise, we are looking to raise additional funds. And to hire more new talent!”

People have the power

Franke is adamant that it is people that make start-ups succeed, not just technology.

“We are starting a company from scratch, so obviously there are lots and lots of challenges. But the biggest one, I guess, is growing as a team: finding the right people and the right match.

“That is what makes the success of a start-up: the amazing people putting blood, sweat and tears in it. It took us founders quite some time to find our very first two team members: Kacper and Benjamin.

“We are incredibly happy to have them onboard. Now we are looking for another backend developer.”

Her advice to other start-ups is to collaborate with their fellow start-ups.

“Connect with other start-ups, pitch to each other, exchange ideas on how to tackle a specific issue.

“That has been extremely helpful to us. You do not have to reinvent the wheel every time. And talking to other like-minded entrepreneurs can be extremely inspiring and energising.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years