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Eric Levitan, 51: Innovating an Age Solution

After a successful career in tech, Eric Levitan found purpose in helping others increase their quality of life through strength training. He discusses the experiences that led him to found Vivo, the role of community in keeping people engaged with the program, and his advice for entrepreneurs.

Purpose and passion have been buzz words for a while now and, with increased lifespans, more and more of us are trying to pull both into what we do. I recently read that passion is for you, and purpose is for others — and that really resonated. The desire to bring these two goals together is often a driving force for starting your own business, especially for those of us over 50.

In fact, the highest rate of entrepreneurship worldwide comes from the 55–64 age group, with entrepreneurial activity among those over 50 increasing by more than 50% since 2008. It’s a modern twist on an old proverb: not only do we want to have our cake, but we’d like to be paid to eat it.  

For Eric, the path toward entrepreneurship started with a desire to give back. A desire to help others (his purpose). What also resonated with me was his statement that starting your own business is a 24/7 lifestyle. Growing up, my dad owned his own business and then I married an entrepreneur — so I am aware of the highest highs and the lowest lows that come with being a business owner. I’ve seen firsthand the determination it takes to be successful. 

How old are you?
I am 51. But, physically and mentally, I feel 30. If we factor in emotions, I am about 100! The very nature of being an entrepreneur means that I work all the time and am feeling the impact of that.

Ahhh, yes — the life of a business owner. You founded and are the CEO of Vivo. Could you share with us why you started the company?
First and foremost, I wanted to make a positive impact in someone’s life. I’ve been very fortunate, achieved some career success, and I wanted to put that good fortune back into the universe.  

My “why” is a culmination of two separate experiences. The first was a presentation I attended by a neurologist named Dr. Martin Blacker who introduced me to a new word, sarcopenia, which is the progressive loss of muscle mass as we age. Many of us know that frailty increases as we get older but aren’t familiar with the scientific concept behind why this happens. That loss of muscle mass has a compounding effect, leading to additional negative health consequences — like falling due to loss of balance, developing type 2 diabetes, or advancing into osteoporosis. But, there is something we can do about it — and that something is strength training. It made me wonder why we as a society (outside of fitness experts) aren’t talking more about sarcopenia and why there aren’t easily accessible programs to help more people with this.

“Loss of muscle mass has a compounding effect, leading to additional negative health consequences”

The second experience that really drove things home was when my mom had a series of falls. Her doctor recommended she walk for exercise, but she was ALREADY walking and was STILL falling. Armed with an increased understanding of the importance of strength training, I knew that walking wasn’t enough. My mom needed strength training. I saw an opportunity to make a difference in her life, and the lives of so many others with similar needs. These moments were the genesis of Vivo.

Tell us about the science behind your program?
Everything is focused on the scientific understanding of how to best build muscle. I started with two influential sources: 1) a Harvard Medical School guide for older adults on strength training and 2) the Center for Aging at my alma mater, Duke University. This research was a roadmap for developing the most appropriate programming, backed by science, to build muscle, with an intentional focus on fast and slow twitch muscle fibers, incorporating power exercises, and leveraging optimal nutrition to drive muscle protein synthesis.

Through a fortuitous meeting, I was introduced to Kevin Snodgrass (our head trainer who developed the rotating exercise program) and we were set to launch Vivo as an in-person program in two studios in Atlanta in March of 2020. 

The pandemic had other plans for us. Like many of you, we rapidly pivoted to a Zoom platform and now we have customers across the country.

What is your vision for the next 5 years?
I’d like to get integrated within health systems and insurance plans so that everyone has access to Vivo as a covered benefit. I want to create more awareness of what healthy aging looks like, help guide people through the aging process, and create a community to support healthy behaviors.

I am assuming you did not major in exercise science. What does your background look like?
I graduated with a degree in mathematics from Duke, and then worked in consulting for a number of years with a focus on IT and software development. I was fortunate to join a buddy of mine in 2001 who was starting a software company, which we ultimately sold in 2013.

So, you went from math to muscle mass. Was there always an interest in sports and physical activity?
Yes, I’ve always been active — club volleyball in college and played sports throughout my adult life. I’ve had a number of injuries and learned so much about the human body in my rehabilitation journey, like, how critical education is to a fitness program, and that’s why education AND health awareness are fully embedded in our program.

What did your family think when you decided to start your own business?
Fortunately, my wife is a successful professional and makes a healthy living with a career of her own. This gave me the flexibility and latitude to explore entrepreneurship, and my daughters are (relatively) self-sufficient teenagers. Did we know how all-encompassing starting this company would be? Definitely not. But they have been extremely supportive and understand what it takes to start a business. 

Advice for Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship is rapidly growing in the above-50 demographic. Do you have any advice for someone thinking about starting their own business?
Yes, I have 2 pieces of advice. First of all, it’s got to be more than a passion. It has to be an obsession because entrepreneurship is a 24/7 endeavor. Even when I’m not working, I’m thinking about work. Passion and enjoyment will wane with a 24/7 schedule. Entrepreneurship requires a deep level of commitment and a solid belief that it’s worth the enormous investment of time and energy. 

My second piece of advice is to find at least one other co-founder (if not multiple) so when you do take on a significant amount of work, there are people to share it with. Divide and conquer to complement your skill sets with others for optimal success (and sanity).

You recently received a pretty large grant from the National Institutes of Health; what was that process like? What was it about your program that stood out above other grant applicants?
The grant process is arduous with a steep learning curve. The three major pieces of our grant submission were the commercialization plan, research plan, and budget — and all required learning the nuances of how grants are awarded. There were endless hours of writing, strategy planning, and more writing. Another tip? Get expert help.

We were fortunate to work with Dr. Katie Starr from Duke University, who understood the process, and Janet Gross, our grant consultant, who has successfully helped others.

In the end, our application stood out due to the high degree of innovation and a digital solution for a problem that affects millions and millions of people. I believe there were two aspects that resonated with reviewers: 1) we are tackling a huge problem of inactivity in aging and 2) we are leveraging technology to address the issue in a population that most people don’t associate with utilizing technology as a solution. 

“We built social engagement into our classes”

Your program has a retention rate of 98%. Wow! What do you attribute that to?
Community. We built social engagement into our classes. So many current solutions remove the human element in favor of automation. We work directly with our members and we schedule appointments. A funny thing happens when people have appointments — they tend to show up! 

Further, our model of a live trainer leading a small class ensures that members receive individual feedback. The trainer can correct form, modify exercises as needed, and ensure that everyone is being challenged. Our members see an average of 25% improvement in strength in only 8 weeks. Video and on-demand programs simply don’t have the same results because there is not a personal trainer to tailor exercises to meet individual needs and there isn’t any accountability.  

Fav Success Story

What is your favorite success story?
It is tough to pick just one as I’ve heard so many, but my favorite story has a personal connection. 

My father-in-law started Vivo and was initially very hesitant, as a lot of our customers are. But I could tell he was engaged in classes and was enjoying them. After 6 weeks, he called to let me know his resistance bands were no longer working and could I send new ones. Confused, I asked if the bands had broken or snapped. He said that the bands were no longer giving as much resistance as they did when he first started. I suggested that maybe the bands weren’t broken, but he was getting stronger. After a long pause, I could hear his realization that the bands weren’t broken — he was now stronger. It had not even occurred to him that it was a possibility to get stronger at his age in only 6 weeks. I still smile when I think about it.

At AGEIST, we are all about balance. What is your favorite guilty pleasure right now?
Clase Azul tequila – on a big ice cube! 

What are your 3 non-negotiables in life?
Kindness above all else, don’t work with assholes, and learn how to enjoy the moment.

Well, Eric, those are three non-negotiables that I can get on board with — and maybe that Clase Azul too!

Connect with Eric: website or LinkedIn.

See medical disclaimer below. ↓

6 COMMENTS

  1. Though a very long term regular outdoor exerciser at home in new Zealand, I started regular weight training last year at age 73, as of slender build and already suffering low bone density. Within three months the difference was noticeable, especially on my arms. I am sure the next density test will be positive and am confident I will still be hiking, cycling and skiing at 92!

  2. We just came back from a Florida getaway and it’s a stark reminder that many people over 50 are in poor health. Eric is on the right track -sarcopenia contributes to so much disability, and is largely ignored by physicians. I hope his company is targeting those in their 50s, because that’s when a lot of inactivity starts.

    • Thank you Marilyn! Yes, Eric’s company is absolutely targeting those over 50. And it is very inclusive in that the trainers are experts in working with this age group – the levels of activity incorporated into the classes range from those that need to workout from a chair to those that can do High Intensity Interval Training.

  3. I can attest to the effectiveness of the Vivo program and I urge Ageist members to take advantage of the 4 week free trial. I am 68 and have been working out with Vivo for two years, starting towards the middle of the pandemic. The improvement in my strength, balance, energy level and mood has been tremendous, not to mention the decrease in back pain I have experienced as I build muscle strength. Also, the classes are fun and I look forward to spending time joking with my trainer and my group as we push ourselves each class to do a little more.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Jill!! I love that you have had such great results. I am close to 5 months in (at age 52) and have seen an increase in strength, endurance, balance and my mood as well!!

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The ideas expressed here are solely the opinions of the author and are not researched or verified by AGEIST LLC, or anyone associated with AGEIST LLC. This material should not be construed as medical advice or recommendation, it is for informational use only. We encourage all readers to discuss with your qualified practitioners the relevance of the application of any of these ideas to your life. The recommendations contained herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You should always consult your physician or other qualified health provider before starting any new treatment or stopping any treatment that has been prescribed for you by your physician or other qualified health provider. Please call your doctor or 911 immediately if you think you may have a medical or psychiatric emergency.

AUTHOR

Ashley Feltner
Ashley is a writer, an artist, and an ideator who has placed storytelling into her process for bringing sales and marketing ideas to life for over 20 years. Her background includes recruiting, training, content development, and ERG leadership within highly matrixed organizations that provide her a unique perspective and an ability to authentically connect with individuals from all walks of life. With the desire to place a little humanity into the digital experience, Ashley believes that words do matter, a little empathy goes a long way, and having a purpose in life is imperative. She and her husband Gabe live in Nashville, TN with two very active teenage daughters and two very lazy field spaniels.

 

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