By LAURA LOREK
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
After a grueling 35-mile bicycle ride in the Hill Country to prepare for a triathlon, Steven Welch felt some aches and pains in his legs.
He agreed to go to a Cryotherapy session with his friend. He didn’t much believe that it would help his recovery, but his friend, Jim Donnelly, who was also training for a triathlon, insisted that he would feel a lot better the next day.
And Welch did.
“Normally, the next day, after a ride like that, my legs would feel like Jell-O,” Welch said. But thanks to the Cryotherapy session he felt great, he said.
Much like the tale of Victor Kiam, an entrepreneur who liked Remington shavers so much he bought the company, Welch and Donnelly, the founder of IgoUgo.com, founded Restore Cryotherapy, a consumer medical business.
Cryotherapy involves a person being put into a device, which resembles a cylindrical tank, with their head remaining outside the chamber at the top. During the Whole Body Cryotherapy session, liquid nitrogen is injected into the chamber that cools the temperature inside the chamber to well below freezing. The sessions generally last three minutes and result in a sharp decrease in overall body temperature.
Restore Cryotherapy also offers oxygen therapy, drip therapy with IV filled with vitamin solutions, Welch said.
In 2015, they opened one store in Austin and one store in Charlotte, North Carolina and the stores have done phenomenally well, Welch said. So they have decided to build out more than 100 stores in the next five years. And they have just raised a seed round of $1 million to expand the business. Most of the investors were doctors but the round also included some well-known angel investors like Gabriel Weinberg, the founder of DuckDuckGo and professional athletes like Jeff Foster.
The stores offer Whole Body Cryotherapy, IV infusion, compression therapy and hyperbaric chambers directly to consumers in a retail setting. Welch likes to say they are “the anti-doctor’s office.”
“They are fun, have quick in and out times and a cool, hip look to them,” Welch said.
Each service is tailored to reduce pain and recovery times for customers, he said.
As a founder of DreamIt, which runs the country’s largest healthcare accelerator, Welch has noticed a trend in the startups participating in the program focused on the health wellness industry.
“Consumers are taking ownership of their healthcare,” Welch said. “They are spending money in more wellness focused areas.”
Some customers buy a monthly visitors package that lets them get multiple treatments during the month, Welch said. All payments are by cash and insurance is not taken, he said. Monthly memberships costs $300 and a session runs $30, he said.
The customers include everyone from professional tennis players to a white collar worker with chronic lower back pain. Some of the back pain suffers visit the store three times a week. Some customers with Rheumatoid arthritis visit the store every day, Welch said.
“It’s hard to grasp until you’ve done it,” Welch said. But for chronic pain sufferers, this therapy offers an alternative to addictive pain relieving drugs, he said.
“This is a much lower cost process,” he said. “A huge percentage of our customers are people who are trying to do things that are more natural.”
Cryotherapy was developed in the ’70s primarily to treat professional athletes and it does not require FDA approval. And Restore Cryotherapy has licensed nurses at every location, Welch said.
Within the next 60 days, Welch and Donnelly plan to have three stores in the Austin area.