New business tackles obesity

MIDDLEBURY — The next new business that could bolster the Vermont brand nationwide is focused on curbing obesity, is connected with the University of Vermont, is based in Middlebury and is directed and managed by Middlebury resident Krista Conley Lincoln.
The business, Vtrim Online Solutions, opened in early February in Middlebury’s industrial park off Exchange Street. It markets to businesses a weight management program developed by UVM.
The university’s division of continuing education has been developing the weight management program over the past decade, a process rooted in scientific research, testing, program development and practical applications. After an eight-month process of working with UVM officials connected to the program, Vtrim Online Solutions signed a 10-year licensing agreement to take the program to a nationwide market.
“Our federal tax dollars helped develop this program at UVM, and they felt it was their moral obligation to take this to market,” Vtrim CEO and managing director Krista Lincoln said in a Wednesday interview. “It’s up to us to take the program beyond the Green Mountain State and globally.”
“The licensing of Vtrim to Krista and her team is a great example of university research creating jobs in Vermont,” said John Evans, senior advisor to the president at the University of Vermont. “Equally important is the impact Vtrim can have on the lifelong health of Vermonters and individuals across the nation.”
Using a business-to-business marketing strategy, Lincoln said her company would focus on large corporations and institutions, like universities, the U.S. military, large health care insurance groups that could offer reductions on insurance premiums for policyholders who had completed the course, national sports and entertainment organizations and other larger companies. Individuals will also be encouraged to sign on, though Lincoln said the expense of marketing to customers at the retail level was high and would represent a minor part of their initial growth strategy.
The weight-loss, or weight-management, program differs from other national weight-loss programs in several ways. First, it does not offer any food supplements, pills, milkshakes or special diets. Second, the program is rooted in scientific research, behavior modification, and relies on expert advice from its trained facilitators, with the group dynamic being an important part of the process. The facilitators look at each participant’s daily journals to see where that person is struggling and offer one-on-one advice over two 12-week programs, which can be followed by a 12-week maintenance program.
The entire Vtrim program is online. Participants meet with an expert facilitator and a small peer group of 12-20 participants weekly for an hour lesson and activity. All Vtrim facilitators complete 45-plus hours of training and are formally certified, and they hold advanced degrees as registered dieticians, or hold a master’s degree in nutrition/food science.
Each participant is given a calorie goal and exercise goal with the objective to lose 1-2 pounds per week. Progress is monitored via an online journal, calorie and exercise calculators, and a virtual pantry, which allows participants to build healthy recipes.
“What the research  has found over the decade that UVM has been developing the program is that it takes about six months for behavior change to take hold,” Lincoln said. “The goal is to teach participants about food and nutrition, provide analysis for each person’s triggers that lead to food consumption and then modify the behavior though well-tested techniques.”
“I got hooked,” she says, of the university’s scientific basis for its program and the rigorous standards it follows. “What we’re about is empowerment and mindfulness, about individual change coming from expert facilitations and scientific resources.
“This is not a program in which you’ll lose 50 pounds in a few months through a weight-loss miracle and then promptly gain it back,” Lincoln continued, “this is a graduated approach to wellness and weight loss.”
In previous tests, she said, 83 percent of participants taking the Vtrim course succeeded in losing 5 to 10 percent of their body weight.
“What makes us really unique,” Lincoln said, “is that we are highly individual with intensive customer service … It doesn’t work if we have people in those groups of 12-20 drop out, so our facilitators work hard to keep participants engaged.”
 “It’s about your own journey, what will work for you as an individual,” said Heather Leonard, Vtrim director of online instruction. She noted that online tools, advice and other help is provided 24-7 on the Vtrim Online website.
Another unique aspect of the program is that it appeals to men because of its online nature, compared to Weight Watchers or other programs that require group interaction and a cheerleading environment — characteristics of other programs that men have not traditionally found appealing.
Pricing for the program is being reworked and is not yet ready for publication, Lincoln said, though the 12-week course at UVM’s continuing education program cost $375 this past year. A typical payment plan for a big company or institution would be to split the cost between the corporation and participant — much like health insurance — to ensure “there is some skin in the game” for both the employer and employee so both parties are fully engaged, Lincoln said.
Lincoln, a 1986 graduate of Middlebury College, said she chose to open her business in Middlebury in the Retail Vision building on Industrial Lane for several reasons, including lower rents than the Burlington area; a good part-time and full-time labor force; and, she said, because she was a single mother of two children and wanted to be able to work close to home.
“Addison County just has so much to offer,” she said.
Vtrim Online Solutions currently has four full-time employees, is seeking two full-time project directors and two interns, and has a part-time crew of 30 facilitators with plans to add more employees as demand grows.
How fast will that growth occur? Lincoln is not willing to speculate, but the 6,000 square feet her office currently occupies (she’s renting half that with space available for another firm) will give her plenty of room for the foreseeable future to develop what she thinks could be the next big Vermont brand.
“It’s a product that was developed in Vermont, will be run in Vermont and reflects Vermont’s healthy living,” she said. “It could be the next major Vermont brand.”

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