Kari Severson, founder and CEO of Walkway

Public treadmill workstations get Minnesotans moving

Minneapolis-based startup Walkway promotes physical activity in sedentary settings

By Erica Rivera
Thursday, February 26, 2015

Kari Severson wants to get people back on their feet — literally. The founder and CEO of Walkway, a service that aims to place free treadmill work stations in public spaces, is eager to launch the company that combines screen time with physical activity on March 2 in Minneapolis.

The seed for the startup was planted in 2011, a point in Severson’s life when she was traveling 50 percent of the time, pursuing an International MBA at Duke, and navigating a long-distance relationship. A fitness fanatic at heart, she was frustrated by the amount of time she spent sitting. She bought a treadmill desk and started using it up to two to three hours a day (the equivalent of five to six miles) while doing conference calls and working.

“It really changed the game for me in terms of feeling more energized and more active throughout the day,” she says, pointing to medical research that shows physical activity improves health, productivity, and creativity.

While treadmill desks are nothing new in modern workplaces or home offices, they aren’t very visible in public spaces. Severson wanted to change that, and provide free opportunities for people to squeeze in exercise at the airport, on college campuses, and in hospitals. “That’s where the concept for Walkway was born: as a way to energize sedentary settings with Walkway work stations,” she says.

Severson, an experienced healthcare professional, partnered with LifeSpan to customize the treadmills, which feature device-charging stations, touch-screen tablets with Internet access, and a maximum speed of 2.0 mph. “That’s plenty fast,” Severson says. “The average user walks between 1.2 and 1.6 miles per hour. It’s a safe speed to be effective but still get a lot of activity in.” The treadmills are also available for sale on Walkway's website.

Walkway is made possible through sponsorship. “We bring on sponsors who are looking to establish a health-oriented, socially conscious brand image.” Sponsors receive three forms of recognition: their branding is physically printed on the workstations, displayed throughout the user experience (users are required to watch a sponsor’s advertisement or health promotion before walking and the sponsor’s logo is featured on the right-hand side of the monitors), and through social media.

Walkway launches on Monday, March 2 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Startup Venture Loft, a co-working space in downtown Minneapolis that is home to 100 entrepreneurs and 30 established businesses, as well as out-of-town visitors. “We’re excited to have Walkway at Startup Venture Loft,” says the venue’s founder, Peter Kane. “The entrepreneurs in our space work long hours. It is important for us to be able to stay physically and mentally active with a product like Walkway.”

Severson is equally excited about the future of Walkway. The company’s first sponsor for Startup Venture Loft is SIMPLS, a locavore convenience store in the Minneapolis skyway. More sponsorships are in the works. “We’re in the process of finalizing agreements with University campuses and hospitals in town, so we can’t reveal specifics, but we’ll be rapidly expanding in the Twin Cities in the weeks to come,” Severson says. Ideally, Severson hopes, Walkway will go nationwide. “This is a simple idea,” she says, “but I think it can make a big difference in terms of changing people’s lifestyles."