Virgin Pulse to add nearly 300 jobs, open new office in RI

Gov hails second tech jobs announcement this week; $5.7M in tax breaks sought

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Wellness tech company Virgin Pulse has decided to add 292 jobs in Rhode Island, more than quadrupling its work force here 10 months after buying local startup ShapeUp Inc., Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Thursday.

“When Virgin Pulse bought ShapeUp, the worst-kept secret among business leaders was that they were looking to move north to Boston,” Raimondo said in a news release.

“Because of the great, talented people who live here and because of the economic tools we’ve created with help from the General Assembly, instead of losing 65 good-paying jobs to Boston, we’re going to create nearly 300,” she said.

Raimondo’s office said that as part of the deal reached with the company, Virgin Pulse will seek $5.7 million in tax credits from the state: $3.2 million in Rebuild Rhode Island credits to subsidize its new office, and $2.5 million in Qualified Jobs Incentive credits that will be offset by the new employees’ income tax payments.

The governor’s office said the company, a division of British entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, plans to use the Rebuild tax credits to help pay for a transition from its current 29,000-square-foot space in the Jewelry District to a nearly 90,000-square-foot space downtown. The Providence Journal building on Fountain Street is one potential option for the company’s new space.

“We considered a Boston office but ultimately chose Providence because of the access to talent and supportive business climate,” David Osborne, Virgin Pulse’s president and chief operating officer, said in a statement. “Our growth strategy is centered on hiring high-potential, early-in-career talent. With its hip vibe, low cost of living and high density of college students, Providence was a great fit from both a business and cultural perspective.”

The company plans to start hiring for the new jobs over the next three to six months and has begun accepting applications for the jobs, which include IT support positions, software engineers and sales account managers. Richard Boylan, Virgin Pulse’s chief technology officer, said the company is working with the TechHire RI program “to ensure we’re able to find and train the talent that meets our needs.”

Virgin Pulse markets technology for employers to promote wellness among their workers. In February the company purchased ShapeUp, co-founded by Dr. Rajiv Kumar, which was one of Rhode Island’s most prominent tech startups in recent years. ShapeUp began at Brown University and received an innovation tax credit from the state in 2008.

“Prior to its acquisition by Virgin Pulse, ShapeUp benefitted immensely from strong partnerships with the Rhode Island state government, local institutions and community leaders,” Kumar said Thursday. “I’m thrilled that Virgin Pulse saw the potential that exists here and decided not only to stay, but to grow our footprint in this supportive and vibrant community.”

The ShapeUp announcement is the second significant economic-development news of the week highlighted by Raimondo, who has made the growth of Rhode Island’s tech sector a key priority of her administration, and has been using tax breaks and other state incentives to encourage it.

On Monday, her administration reached a deal for Wexford Science & Technology to build a new innovation campus on the old I-195 highway land, anchored by Brown University and the Cambridge Innovation Center. Earlier this year she convinced General Electric to put a new digital office in downtown Providence, and she remains in talks with PayPal about the company adding jobs in the state.

“We will continue to make the necessary investments in our people so that Rhode Islanders have the skills they need to compete for the jobs Virgin Pulse, GE Digital, CIC, Wexford and others are creating right here in Rhode Island,” Raimondo said.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Madeline Wright contributed to this report.

An earlier version of this story said Virgin Pulse would seek $2.9 million in Qualified Jobs Incentive tax credits, but the governor’s office later said that amount had been reduced to $2.5 million.