In an ever-changing healthcare landscape, Greg Van Hyfte, SSA ’10, MAPSS ’02, sees one constant: the value of yoga to improve a person’s physical and mental/emotional well-being.  

As if to prove that point, YogaCare—the startup launched in 2014 with co-founders Van Hyfte, Julia Pedersen and Dr. Kohar Jones out of the University of Chicago John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC)—experienced its best growth yet in fiscal year 2017. During that time, the nonprofit offered more than 2,000 yoga student encounters through 435 classes and workshops to 472 participants in underserved parts of Chicago by partnering with community organizations and medical centers.  

“There is no condition yoga can’t help,” Van Hyfte said. “Our vision is ‘yoga for all.’”  

YogaCare competed as a finalist in the SNVC, run by Chicago Booth’s Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The SNVC is the social impact track of the University of Chicago’s nationally ranked accelerator program, the Edward Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge.   YogaCare 2

Van Hyfte developed the idea for YogaCare with Pedersen, a yoga community connector, and Dr. Jones, a community physician and former Director of Community Health and Service Learning at the University of Chicago Medicine (UCM).  

They knew YogaCare could positively impact health outcomes, having researched the impact of the yoga classes on pain and stress with the support of a community mini-grant offered by UChicago’s Institute for Translational Medicine (ITM), a partnership between the University of Chicago and Rush in collaboration with several health and research organizations.  

What they needed to succeed – a viable business model – came from teaming up with Kevin Stephens, MBA ’15, MD ’15, and Kristin Cho, ’15, both students at Chicago Booth who joined YogaCare’s founding board.  

“It’s important to make sure yoga classes are affordable to the community,” Pedersen said. “Through SNVC, we learned creative ways to secure a variety of funding streams. We also developed storytelling skills and a pitch deck that we still use today with organizations that request our services.”  

With these and other insights, YogaCare expanded classes and teacher training from Chicago’s South Side to the West Side last year. At its newest site, PCC Community Wellness Center in the Austin neighborhood, the organization launched a behavioral health and yoga therapy group visit model for opioid addiction treatment.   

The “Self-Care for Health Care” series, designed by Dr. Jones and Dr. Sonia Oyola – YogaCare’s Board President and UCM faculty member – has taught wellness and relaxation techniques to reduce stress and combat burnout for hundreds of physicians and other providers.   

In 2016, YogaCare served over 240 students and provided scholarships to four community class participants who are now trained as yoga instructors.     

YogaCare has grown from a team of five to 50, including volunteers. Finding funding is still a challenge, Van Hyfte said, but the cofounders are nonetheless focused on adding to their leadership team, which now includes Kelli Bosak, SSA ’15. The team is implementing their newly revised strategic plan – a process that seems less intimidating because of their SNVC experience.  

"I feel grateful for the networks of support that have allowed YogaCare to grow from a vision to a reality," said Dr. Jones. "Community, university, nonprofit incubators, and dedicated teachers and volunteers have all helped YogaCare realize our mission to serve as a catalyst to share the healing benefits of yoga with underserved Chicago communities.”   

To learn more about how to support or volunteer with YogaCare, please contact info@yogacareus.org. The startup has also just launched a crowdfunding campaign.