Sarah Hill, center, stands

Sarah Hill, center, stands with Wendy Moore, left; Alyssa Stahl; and Bethany Schoengarth, right, after winning the Small Business of the Year Award for 2021 on Thursday at The Blue Note in Columbia. Hill is the CEO and chief storyteller of her business, Healium, which uses virtual and augmented reality technology to manage stress.

Tech startup Healium won the Columbia Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year Award for 2021.

DogMaster Distillers, Missouri Business Alert, SOA Architecture and the Voluntary Action Center were the other finalists for the Small Business of the Year Award.

To be nominated, businesses had to have less than 25 full-time personnel, opened before January 2019 and be in good standing with the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.

The Thursday ceremony concluded the Columbia Chamber of Commerce Small Business Week of 2021.

Healium took home the award for its tech startup in what CEO and Chief Storyteller Sarah Hill called the “Silicon Prairie.”

The business uses virtual and augmented reality technology to help people manage stress and anxiety. Hill described the virtual reality experience of meditating in a park while not physically being at a park.

The employees at Healium work from a place of understanding about mental health. In her speech at the ceremony, Hill said that everyone on the mostly female staff struggles with anxiety.

Hill herself was a reporter for more than 20 years and experienced the burnout and trauma of her stories.

“As a reporter, you are covering rapes, murders and suicide and getting up to do it again tomorrow,” Hill said. “If you don’t have some mental health hygiene, that will give yourself the inability to sleep, to focus, and for me, that led to panic.”

The company experienced an increase in users during the coronavirus pandemic. As users became more trapped inside their homes, Healium offered a way to travel elsewhere synthetically.

“This is the stress Olympics right now,” Hill said. “These are portable digital tools that can bring you a walk in the park when you can’t physically take a walk.”

Sales are up more than 400% since pre-pandemic numbers, Hill said.

“Holy cow, we have a virtual vacation to provide people around the world,” Hill said.

  • Cameron Barnard is a reporter for the Columbia Missourian. You can reach him at Cameron.barnard3@gmail.com, in the newsroom at 573-882-5720 or on Twitter @Cameron_Barnard.

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