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10,000 Steps to Eliminate Hunger

Local entrepreneurs' app takes advantage of exercise culture as a way to donate meals to those in need
Courtesy of Vizer

By Helen I. Hwang

Vizer cofounders

Vizer cofounders

Courtesy of Vizer

Ten thousand steps. You’ve all heard about the magic number that can turn you into a model of pure health, right? It’s good for us, but what if that knowledge isn’t enough to incentivize you?

What if you had to reach that daily goal so you could donate a meal to feed those in need? When you exercised, one less person may not go hungry.

That’s the brilliant business model of Vizer, a social justice wellness app that started in San Diego. The name Vizer is a play off of “incentivize,” a phrase that co-founder Samantha Pantazopoulos came up with.

The health app works like this: You exercise any way you want—whether you walk 10,000 steps, check into a gym, or play pickleball in a rec league. For each day, you accomplish your goal, a meal is donated to feed the hungry. The premise is that altruistic humans could use an extra boost to stay healthy and do good. If you don’t exercise, someone may not get to eat. To date, Vizer has already donated 3.5 million meals through food banks across the country.

In honor of National Hunger Awareness Month last month, Vizer partnered with brands to bring attention to food insecurity that impacts people everywhere, including homeless people, families, veterans, seniors, and college students.

One of Vizer’s partners, Jiant, launched a limited-release kombucha flavor called Planet Pomegranate nationwide, donating profits to food banks. Other partners include Vita Coco, Dream Pops, and Hydrant. Vizer also lets people earn rewards like free juice shots or protein bars.

Pantazopoulos came up with the idea when she was part of a social entrepreneurship incubator program at Semester at Sea. The first time she witnessed how devastating food insecurity can be was at a port stop in Senegal. Hunger was an injustice that she was inspired to do something about.

vizer app

vizer app

Courtesy of Vizer

“I think a big catalyst was understanding [that] if you didn’t have enough food to eat and you weren’t properly fueling your body, it was going to be impossible to develop other healthy habits,” explained Pantazopoulos, who lives and works out of her Crown Point condo. She wants to make sure everyone has a shot at having access to good nutrition and achieve their health goals.

When she got back to California, she persuaded her cousin Dylan Barbour to join her in starting the company. Eventually, he quit his stable job (with health benefits) at Morgan Stanley in San Francisco to put his energy into Vizer. And just in case you were paying attention, you may know that name from his time as a contestant on The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise, the latter of which introduced him to his now fiancée, Hannah Godwin.

These days, Vizer is growing and thriving in its mission. The company already has “tens of thousands of users,” said Pantazopoulos. They’ve also signed up companies, teams, and schools like the University of San Diego, her alma mater which has been instrumental in launching her entrepreneurial career.

Growing up, the cousins were at opposite ends of the exercise spectrum, but they both struggled with balancing physical activity with nutrition. While Barbour was a college athlete, Pantazopoulos had asthma and gave up her sports dreams after she played on her fifth grade basketball team.

Pantazopoulos’ philosophy for exercise nowadays, though, is “ask yourself what feels good on that day.” One of her favorite activities is a beach hike from Crystal Pier to South Mission Beach. Recently, she bought ballet shoes online so she can learn to dance with a Misty Copeland video. “You gotta spice up your exercise routine,” she says.

Thirty minutes of anything that raises your heart rate counts on the Vizer app. And for Pantazopoulos, she and Barbour designed the social justice wellness app to not only measure activity but to also measure how many meals you can donate to “raise attention to the fact that the problem of hunger is all around us,” she adds.

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