It all started with Sam Pantazopoulos, a University of San Diego alumna, who admits she always hated working out and was determined to find a remedy.
“I thought if my workout could be more significant than me, like if it could help somebody else or have this impact and then also have rewards involved, that would be motivating,” Pantazopoulos told NBC 7.
Pantazopoulos is now the CEO and co-founder of a San Diego-based exercise rewards app called Vizer. She started it with her cousin, Dylan Barbour, who is also a co-founder and the Chief Growth Officer.
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The Vizer app rewards people for being active by donating a meal to those in need through local food banks. It also allows people to earn credits that can be redeemed for items at local businesses.
The way it works is simple, because that's how they want the experience to be.
Users can download the app on their phones, create an account, and then hit their daily goal by either walking 10,000 steps or exercising for 30 minutes. Once achieving one of the two fitness goals, users can then open the app and hit “donate meal.” From here, a brand that Vizer has partnered with donates a meal locally, on the user’s behalf.
“Once you download it and understand the experience, it can kind of become a part of your daily life,” said Pantazopoulos. “We don’t want you spending a ton of time on the app, because screen time can even be unhealthy.”
In addition to the meal donations, users receive one credit for every time they hit their goal for the day. These credits can be used to redeem anything from a spicy tuna roll at Cloak and Petal, to a taste of hard kombucha at JuneShine or a coffee at Parakeet Café.
When asked about the decision to combine encouraging people to exercise with being able to donate meals, Pantazopoulos said it was a clear combination.
“So, looking at what are the foundational barriers of helping people live a healthy life, I think motivation is one but also access to resources and helping people increase their access to healthy food,” she explained. “That is kind of the foundation on which you could build anything else.”
At the start of the pandemic, when kids were no longer going to class in-person and many families were out of work, community members turned to food banks for help. Pantazopoulos said this is when they had the idea to make Vizer available to users nationwide. She said it was important to them to try to step up and help with the mass need for nutrition during a difficult time.
In June, Vizer became available throughout the country. Since its start, Vizer has donated 1.2 million meals nationwide. More than 300,000 of those meals have been donated in San Diego, according to Pantazopoulos. She added that the meals donated through Vizer are distributed quarterly.
“It took us 11 months to see the first 20,000 workouts into meals. Now we do over 20,000 a week,” Pantazopoulos said.
The Vizer app is available for both Google Android and Apple iOS.
“I just try to get people to test it out and once they do, they tend to really enjoy it,” she concluded.