Optum is cooking up a new startup


knourishOne of the most important pieces in the healthy living equation is eating right.

That can be a struggle for many people who work long hours and don’t have the time to plan and prepare nutritious meals.

Too often, we opt for the quick fix — fast food, a microwavable lunch, or a piecemeal of snacks.

Knourish is a new web-enabled startup coming from Optum, the consumer company under the umbrella of UnitedHealth Group, which seeks to address this epidemic with a model that involves bringing fresh meals into the workplace.

“We’re simplifying nutrition and solving for convenience and taste,” says Terry Hickey, founder and CEO of the internally incubated venture.

Hickey, whose background is in technology and continuous improvement, is a single parent of a teenage daughter and is very familiar with the challenges of providing a family with healthy meals while balancing a busy life.

The dishes offered on Knourish’s website are mostly around $10 and are built around tried-and-true nutrition principles by local chefs and caterers. The majority of options include a protein (such as grilled chicken, fish or turkey meatloaf) complemented by plenty of fruits and veggies. The menu changes every two weeks, and the meals are prepared fresh daily.

Ease of transportation is a big selling point. Knourish is able to bring a 4×4 cooler packed with these “grab and go” meals into an office, where employees can buy their lunch and also buy dinner to bring home and heat up.

“The advantage of going into the buildings or campuses of these companies,” Hickey says, “is that I have a very captivated audience.”

Knourish has already rolled into three buildings in the Twin Cities, and plans to roll into six or more within the next 12 weeks.

Presently, there’s not a distinct tech aspect to the business, beyond the ability to order online, but that’s definitely a pillar of the long-term strategy. Going forward, Hickey says he hopes to begin diverting resources from the creation of the meals into strengthening the digital component.

They are getting into social media and blogging, and more importantly they’re capturing data. Ultimately, Hickey says that customer data can be used to better recommend meals based on the individual’s personal taste and nutritional needs. Think of how Netflix uses its complex algorithm to suggest movies based on what a user has watched before.

Obviously, this is a crowded marketplace. Countless eating options exist, many of which will be less expensive and more familiar to customers, so Knourish must differentiate itself from the pack.

Hickey hopes that the nation’s growing focus on healthy eating, along with the unparallelled portability and convenience offered by his product, will make that all possible.


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