Founder’s Diary: London — Feat. Cigna Innovations in Health

Do you know what a smoothie bike is? InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte Zeeck reports from the Innovations in Health and Wellbeing event in London — hosted by InterNations Global Partner Cigna — before exploring how the InterNations London Community welcomes new arrivals in the British capital.

When I recently visited the InterNations London Community, I had the amazing opportunity to attend two great networking events — our very own London Newcomers’ Event, as well as Innovations in Health and Wellbeing, the first event of that kind organized by our Global Partner Cigna.

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have spotted my tweets about #CignaInnovationsinHealth. So here’s the full story!

The Event Space of My Dreams

Innovations in Health and Wellbeing was hosted at 30 Euston Square, a spacious conference venue just a few steps from Euston Station, right in the heart of the British capital. Fittingly enough for a health-focused event run by a global insurance company, the beautiful location started out as the headquarters of an early 20th-century assurance provider. Today it is owned by the Royal College of General Practitioners.

Apart from the apt symbolism, the facilities couldn’t have been any better: the building features several meeting and dining rooms, boutique hotel rooms, a café, a few stores, and a large event space. A similar location catering to expats and international business travelers, ready to welcome our guests in large InterNations Communities like London, would be my personal dream for the future come true.

But back to the present! We had invited the London Community, and I was happy to see how many people had turned up to explore how technology can help you stay healthy while you’re living abroad.

Smoothie Bikes and Smartwatches

Arjan Toor, CEO of our Global Partner Cigna, gave a short speech to officially open the event, which was very much characterized by a hands-on approach. I seized the chance to try the innovations on display myself.

Did you know there’s such a thing as a “smoothie bike”? You simply ride a stationary fitness bike for a couple of minutes, and since it’s fitted with a special blender that spins while you pedal, you get a freshly made smoothie as a reward for working out.

There was even a ranking to compare your efforts with those of other participants. I must say this looked a lot easier than it actually turned out to be: you do have to pedal very fast without slowing down at the end to keep the blender going! With lots of cheering by the audience, it was a fun way to promote regular exercise and balanced nutrition, though.

Afterwards, I rewarded myself for that effort by giving the virtual relaxation pod a try. You put on a pair of virtual reality goggles and headset to simulate a soothing environment. While you’re sitting in a cozy chair, you are suddenly transported to a faraway beach, escaping the stress of real life for a few precious minutes. This kind of VR technology could, for example, be used in mindfulness therapy.

And not only were there quite a few Cigna Global staff members present to answer questions about international healthcare plans: Apple was also in attendance to introduce the fitness features of their Apple Watch 2, like its new level of water resistance. Don’t fear ruining your new smartwatch by jumping in at the deep end!

Inspiration for Healthy Living

Evidently, the other guests enjoyed networking over (healthy) fingerfood and checking out some innovative gadgets at least as much as I did: the event started at 18:30, but the last people didn’t leave until 23:00. It was very convenient that I could just stay at the venue, in one of their very comfortable bedrooms. After all, a good night’s sleep is another essential part of a healthy lifestyle.

Thanks again to our Global Partner Cigna for making Innovations in Health and Wellbeing possible! The event was a great motivation booster: the following morning, I was very much inspired to go for the healthy options from the delicious breakfast buffet.

From Bloomsbury to Westminster: The Newcomers’ Event

Now it was time for me to switch locations for the InterNations Newcomers’ Event: I moved from the academic atmosphere of Bloomsbury, with its many universities, museums, and research institutions, to the seat of political power. The Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel is located just across the river from Whitehall, 10 Downing Street, and the Houses of Parliament. Its Primo Bar — where the event took place — offers iconic views of the Thames and Big Ben from its exclusive VIP area.

Speaking of VIPs: We’d invited all the Group Consuls of the InterNations London Community to stop by about an hour before the event and have a drink on the house. Alex, our polyglot British-Slovenian Newcomers Ambassador, took the time to explain the special event format, and the 40 attendees had plenty of other questions.

During our Q&A session, I thanked the volunteers and updated them on what we’re currently working on at the InterNations head office. InterNations Changemakers — our ever-expanding community outreach program — and the upcoming guest list app for our volunteers met with particular interest.

But we discussed other pressing issues as well, such as how to improve cooperation among our volunteers, and I received plenty of valuable feedback, both of the positive and the critical variety. Such input — especially the constructive criticism — helps us tremendously to figure out which concrete steps we need to take towards improving the InterNations experience for volunteers and regular members alike.

For example, the no-show rate is often a major concern for Groups Consuls: people spontaneously sign up to attend an activity and never cancel officially when they can’t make it. For smaller groups or activities that require a certain number of participants, this can be rather frustrating, and this issue very much needs addressing. But despite such valid concerns, our gathering was not all gloom and doom — quite on the contrary.

Motivation for Newcomers

With its 80,000 members, London is one of the three biggest InterNations Communities worldwide, and it has a considerable number of thriving groups, too. Our more than 80 groups in London are dedicated to a wide range of interests — from the London Entrepreneurs and Start-Up Group to the Book Club to the Salsa & Bachata Social Dancing Group.

All of the 40+ Consuls in attendance briefly introduced themselves and their group, sharing their motivation for organizing these activities in the first place. A few newcomers, who’d been early for the actual event, ended up listening to this introduction round. Two of them even found it so inspiring that it motivated them to jump in right away and become Group Consuls, too!

During the Newcomers’ Event, which started at 19:30, I had the chance to talk to quite a few of the consuls personally. The new InterNations members and new arrivals in London seemed to be enjoying the live music and the animated conversations — with nearly 190 guests altogether, the lounge was packed.

Officially, the event was supposed to end at 22:00, but it wasn’t before 23:30 that I made it back to my hotel room at the Plaza, so I’d definitely call the Newcomers’ Event a success.

(Image credit: Malte Zeeck/InterNations)

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