Crossing the bridge to digital Wellola-ness

Introducing Wellola, the digital health platform provider that empowers patients to self-manage their care and supports healthcare organisations to allocate their resources more efficiently.

This article originally appeared in the March/April issue of Startups Magazine. Click here to subscribe

Healthcare is always evolving. As more is learnt about the human body, technology becomes smarter; and as people live longer, the ailments they encounter become more prevalent, and the need to bridge the divide between traditional healthcare practices coupled with the growing demand for accessible, preventative care becomes more prevalent.

Sonia Neary, a seasoned physiotherapist with extensive experience in the Irish and Hong Kong healthcare systems, co-founded Wellola with Dr. Greg Martin, an epidemiologist by trade and Director of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre in Ireland.

Sharing is caring – a model of empowerment

The idea of Wellola was initially driven by a vision to streamline healthcare delivery through technology.

“In 2014, as a homecare physiotherapist, I struggled with the disconnect between caring for a patient in a hospital facility versus caring for someone in their home. I didn't have access to patient records, and I’d often have to ask patients to repeat their medical histories. There was no way to take a payment online … there wasn’t an easy option for an online booking; there were all sorts of basic challenges around securely accessing and handling patient data and administration.”

Responding to this disconnect, Sonia developed Wellola as a niche, physiotherapy-focused solution that, over the years, evolved into a patient-centric platform. This platform now facilitates the seamless sharing of data from hospitals to patients, fostering a shared care model that encourages patients to self-manage their conditions.

“Our product is called Portasana,- and it's very much a patient facing product … the goal being to support the patient to self-manage their conditions, where they are educated and empowered, and only when absolutely necessary, do they need to default to the physical in-person care model.”

A seamless integration

“Working with a number of public and private sector healthcare organisations, we needed to integrate with their existing infrastructure. And that's the difference between our MVP and what we have now it's highly interoperable.”

The platform's transformative potential was soon recognised, leading to collaborations with healthcare institutions like the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and the Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

In working with patients, families, and healthcare service providers, Wellola's commitment to data privacy and security is paramount.

“Patient data, privacy, and security is fundamental … the hospital or trust is the data controller at all times, Wellola purely processes it. We ensure best practice compliance; we're ISO27001 certified, we also comply with the business continuity management system and UK-specific standards such as DTAC and DSPT. From a patient authentication perspective, we comply with DCB0129 and DCB3015. We work with one of the top clinical safety officers in NHS. We set the bar very high.”

A dynamic work culture

Underpinning Wellola's success is its diverse and dynamic team, which has grown from two co-founders to over 25 dedicated professionals.

Primarily based in the UK, the diversity of the team mirrors the diversity of the platform's user base, embodying the company's ethos of inclusive, patient-focused care. The company culture, marked by trust, diversity, and a shared belief in preventive, community-based healthcare, fuels Wellola's mission to make digital health tools supportive and accessible to all.

The challenges

The journey of Wellola has not been without its challenges though, and Sonia candidly shares the hurdles of navigating the complex regulatory and compliance landscape of digital healthcare.

“Setting up a company like this is challenging … we weren’t prepared for just how much work was required to deliver a safe and secure digital health care product into patients hands; handling the compliance and regulatory standard; handling the data and privacy standard; we underestimated the amount of capital required and the complexity of navigating the existing ecosystem in order to succeed in bringing a product to market in the healthcare arena … we had to learn on our feet.”


In its early stages, the company attracted seed investment with Enterprise Ireland, the Irish governing body for trade and innovation, and private investors, demonstrating the confidence of investors in its vision and potential. This initial capital injection enabled Wellola to develop its core technology platform, expand its team, and begin establishing a foothold in the healthcare market.

As the company progressed, it raised further rounds of funding, each time leveraging its achievements, growing customer base, and the increasing demand for digital health solutions. These financial milestones have not only fuelled Wellola's expansion but also underscored the tech and healthcare communities' recognition of its valuable contribution to the industry.

However, the journey was not without its learning curves.

“Every day is a school day when it comes to starting and scaling a business … However, it's important to get the right team to help you swim well in each of those lanes early on … In Ireland for every one woman that gets funded, 49 men get funded. That is the reality and it's about navigating that reality and understanding that if you’re going to be challenged around risk, rather than ambition, you need have those answers prepared and be aware of that mindset and how to address those questions.”

Advice to startups

For entrepreneurs looking to startup their own tech companies, Sonia offers the following advice:

“Validate and interrogate your assumptions around product-market fit with as little expense as you can early on. Looking back, we probably invested more than we should have in the MVP and went down quite a niche route before looking at the total addressable market, and how we might access that market.

“Surround yourself with the people who can lift you up and get you thinking more ambitiously. For me it was participating in the right kind of accelerator programmes and finding a forum of like-minded entrepreneurs.

“Know your competitors. We've got some competitors that I really look up to. We love what they're doing. We share a vision, but we define ourselves and our offering differently and add value in a different way or complementary to them. Understand what you’re up against – be that the status quo or competitors – is as important as knowing product market fit.”

“Educate yourself with as little expense as you can.”

What’s next

“From a product perspective, we’re launching the our new Care Journey module at scale. From a market perspective, we really want to be a UK market leader in digital patient care and communications. From a people perspective, we’re looking to expand our team at the NEXUS centre in Leeds. We do have a global vision, but for now, it’s to embed ourselves in the UK market and see as many patients benefiting from our product as possible.”