December 20, 2016

WellO2 breathes fresh air into respiratory training

Hapella believes WellO2 will be ready for international markets in 2017. Pictured (from left): founder Aulis Kärkkäinen, CEO Ilpo Kuronen, sales manager Virpi Parviainen and co-owner Jorma J. Takanen.
Hapella believes WellO2 will be ready for international markets in 2017. Pictured (from left): founder Aulis Kärkkäinen, CEO Ilpo Kuronen, sales manager Virpi Parviainen and co-owner Jorma J. Takanen.
Hapella

Everybody should train their respiratory muscles, believes Hapella, a Finnish startup which promises benefits for asthmatics, athletes and couch potatoes alike, or even someone suffering from a cold.

Behind Hapella’s claim is its WellO2 wellness device for respiratory training which was launched in Finland last month. Its patented method combines resistive breathing and warm vapour inhalation to support better and more efficient breathing.

“When you blow into the device, the resistance created opens up your airways so when you inhale the warm vapour it gets deeper into your airways,” explains Happella CEO Ilpo Kuronen. “This combination opens up your airways and clears mucus, while breathing against resistance trains the respiratory muscles.”

Hapella believes this can help not only those with acute or chronic breathing difficulties, but also shallow breathers, snorers, the elderly and even athletes by increasing chest mobility, lung capacity and enhancing blood circulation. Hapella backs this up with test results which found shallow breathers were able to improve their exhaling and inhaling strength by up to 30 per cent after a few weeks of respiratory training.

A breath of fresh air

WellO2 stems from the personal experiences of its creator Aulis Kärkkäinen, who has battled respiratory difficulties and asthma all his life. Kärkkäinen had always found the steam in a sauna relieves his condition, but it was not until 2010 when he tried resistive breathing that it dawned on him what a powerful effect combining the two could have.

At first Kärkkäinen built a prototype device for his personal use, but soon realised its commercial potential. And he was not alone. Among the people convinced by the concept was Kuronen, who left a career at the Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment to help found Hapella in July 2014.

“We closed our funding round [of 1.5 million euros] in a few months and we could not even take in everyone who was interested,” Kuronen recalls. “WellO2 is a simple innovation in the sense that it is easy to understand and it has been created by a user. People saw its potential very quickly.”

At first, Hapella focused purely on the treatment side of WellO2 device, but soon realised it had training potential as well. Both the device’s temperature and breathing resistance are adjustable, which means the training load can be adapted to anyone.

“Think of a family with kids. The kids get at cold a few times a year and WellO2 is great for clearing their airways,” says Kuronen. “If there is a singer in the family, it can be used to open up and treat their voice and it also helps dad with asthma and grandad with pulmonary disease.”

Growing global demand

WellO2 started well in Finland, with 2 000 units sold in its first two weeks. And Hapella believes demand will only grow.

“We talked with big healthcare device manufacturers when researching the market and they said the number of respiratory problems will explode in future,” Kuronen explains. “Still there has not been any real innovation in the sector for 20 years, until now.”

Hapella is already negotiating with potential distribution partners outside Finland and plans to launch WellO2 across the Nordics and German-speaking countries in 2017. At the same time the startup is investing in product development and working with medical professionals to research the potential benefits of WellO2 in preventing colds, easing sleep apnea and even supporting recovery from a stroke.

“We want to create various products and services around respiratory wellness. The aim is to also add advisory services where doctors can offer help and advice to our customers,” Kuronen says. “Our vision is to build WellO2 into an internationally recognised brand.”

Text: Eeva Haaramo

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