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PROVIDENCE — Virgin Pulse, the tech-enabled wellness arm of British entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, is about to make a major acquisition.

In an exclusive interview, Chris Michalak, the company’s new chief executive, told the Globe that the Providence-based company plans to purchase Welltok, a patient engagement company.

Michalak, who took over Virgin Pulse in June, said the companies have a similar end goal, which is to help engage users to help them make decisions about their health. Virgin Pulse brings its 4,000 clients across nearly 190 countries into the deal, as well as its digital-first platform. Denver-based Welltok brings new markets, a client list of nearly 100 health care and hospital systems, patient engagement and acquisition campaigns, and pandemic-related communications.


He said under the deal, Virgin Pulse will be able to deliver new and expanded data, analytics and multi-channel communications capabilities to their clients (which are typically employers that pay for the company’s service for their employees). Virgin Pulse will also be able to accelerate their ability to deliver a scalable “end-to-end health activation and engagement platform” that addresses the needs of the health care industry.

“More than 55 percent of our members are on our platform on a regular basis, multiple times a month, all 12 months out of the year. We’ve got this great activation capability and they’ve got a database of 270 million health care consumers. They have an ability to target, using artificial intelligence and machine learning, to predict with great confidence who is going to respond to certain types of campaigns,” said Michalak, who recently relocated to Bristol, Rhode Island, to replace David Osborne, who left Virgin Pulse for a chief executive position at CaseWare “The combination of us being able to engage people and their ability to activate people, help them change their behavior and take action on particular things is incredibly powerful.”


Both companies focus on well-being and wellness. ”You keep people healthy, you reduce the cost of health care,” Michalak said.

“We’re going to be well positioned in our capability to help people make better decisions about health care, better decisions about what doctors to go to, and what decisions about what procedures to have, and where to get them done,” said Michalak. “We’ll increasingly play a larger role in what I call ‘the navigation and transparency’ part of health care: making good calls about the costs of care and the quality of care they receive.”

The acquisition will not prompt any immediate changes, or investments, at the Providence office, which has reopened since the pandemic. The office, located on Fountain Street, is known for its collaborative environment decked with ping pong tables, kitchenettes, and lounge spaces.

The company selected Providence for its headquarters in 2017, moving from an office building in Framingham, Mass., after acquiring ShapeUp, which is a local wellness company founded by local and Brown University alumnus Dr. Rajiv Kumar, in February 2016. Osborne previously told the Globe that choosing Providence was also a recruitment decision, to help them hire a younger workforce that could be the future of the company.

Virgin Pulse's reception lounge at the company headquarters in Providence, Rhode Island.
Virgin Pulse's reception lounge at the company headquarters in Providence, Rhode Island.

Early next year, Michalak said he hopes to fully reopen the office for the more than 300 employees who would like to return. Welltok, which is based in Denver, also has about 100 employees in its Burlington, Mass., office.


“We’re actually growing in New England with this acquisition,” said Michalak. “We’re committed to the Providence office and continue to build the legacy of the strength we’ve created here.”

The deal with Welltok is scheduled to close this month, said Michalak, as long as it’s approved by federal regulators (Michalak declined to share the purchase price). Welltok will continue to operate under its own brand for several months, but Michalak said the plan is to absorb the brand under the Virgin Pulse umbrella at a later date.

Virgin Pulse is backed by Los Angeles-based Marlin Equity Partners, a global investment firm with more than $7.7 billion in capital commitments that has completed more than 190 acquisitions.

“Together, we have the potential to create modern, scalable healthcare engagement and activation solutions that will greatly increase the value our clients realize by driving meaningful change and outcomes, faster,” said Bob Fabbio, Welltok’s chief executive.

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.