Local business owner is finalist in $25,000 startup challenge to launch advanced manufacturing company
Great Barrington — A local businessman looking to scale his newest contribution to the wellness industry is in the midst of competing for $25,000 in seed funding to bring his innovation to market. Joseph Antoine Alston of Exercise Prescribing Gyms and the Alston Center has been selected as one of four finalists in Lever Inc.’s Berkshire Manufacturing Innovation Challenge. Alston has created a wearable training tool to assist individuals in finding and maintaining a neutral spine while performing key manual labor job tasks in the workplace; now, he is partnering with Brad Roblin, founder of Pro Workforce Performance, in hopes of mitigating the deleterious effects of manual labor in the workplace. The AMEM—an acronym for Alston Method Essential Movements—Vest is based on a concept Alston has been fine-tuning for close to a decade. If this dynamic duo wins the competition, Alston’s more than 25 years in the fitness industry will finally be scalable, not only making his expertise accessible for all, but also contributing function to those in need.
“It’s a wearable training and educating device that allows for individuals not only to understand, but also to feel how it is to move well and correctly with the spine in alignment and minimal energy wasted in their movements,” said Alston of his invention. The AMEM Vest aligns the spine through three points of contact—head, thoracic spine and sacrum—and has undergone various stages of development over the last eight years. “The fastest and most effective way to get this product to those who need it is to work directly with insurance companies,” explained Alston, which is where Roblin enters the picture. His experience as a former professional baseball player coupled with the fact that he is a fourth-generation insurance professional mean Roblin understands the risks associated with movement in the workplace.
“The reality is that, a lot of times, people get hurt not when lifting the 50-pound bag, but when doing the routine tasks,” explained Roblin, whose company provides consulting/risk management services for reducing movement-based injuries in the workplace. “You never want to load dysfunction,” he added, noting that, if walking is loading, then manual labor—like working in construction or manufacturing—carries an inherently high risk for injury. Roblin is committed to showing companies that movement-specific workplace intervention can have myriad benefits. His partnership with Alston, for the sake of the startup challenge, means the AMEM Vest might soon be available on a large scale. “This venture has allowed us to understand how we are going to distribute [the vest],” explained Alston. “We imagine this tool being used in the workplace with workforces where labor is unavoidable and the likelihood of musculoskeletal disorders is almost inevitable as well as for the average individual in his/her home or wherever he/she chooses to take it,” he added.
Alston’s groundbreaking method, designed around a series of eight essential movements, identifies an individual’s asymmetries while simultaneously building strength and mobility; the end result, dynamic integration of the entire body, allows individuals to move through their daily lives with ease, function and vitality. This, when combined with Roblin’s consulting/risk management services for reducing movement-based injuries in the workplace, translates to a powerful and effective means of addressing wellness at work.
“Work is where people have to get well,” emphasized Roblin. Rather than seen through the traditional lens as a financial drain, investing in on-the-job wellness is “an opportunity to give employees tools to work harder and longer—to sustain themselves and their quality of life,” he added, noting that such investments will ultimately contribute to a healthier and more efficient workplace community. “Individuals don’t have the time, information or resources to make it happen on their own. The company must be the answer,” he added, noting, “Wellness plans nourish people and build community.”
The AMEM Vest, along with the accompanying methodology, are of Alston’s design; the vest is currently protected under a trademark and Alston is in the midst of a patent process, which means the opportunity to participate in this competition has been particularly poignant. “It’s actually been eye-opening and quite enlightening,” said Alston of the process thus far. “I love working with other like-minded people [as well as] partnering with and experiencing this process with others who are creators and innovators trying to help the greater populations for the greater good,” he added. Each “team” of finalists has been coached by Lever staff and expert mentors, a process that will continue leading up to the Jan. 24 competition at which a panel of expert judges will select one team to receive $25,000 and be incubated at Lever.
Finalists were selected based on four criteria: application in the life sciences; high growth potential; likelihood of attracting investment capital; and creating jobs in our region. In order to scale Alston’s methodology—which means it can be launched without the creator/inventor, taught to others, distributed to many, and have a life of its own—the AMEM Vest needs to be manufactured; if Alston and Roblin take the $25,000 prize, it will be used to bring the AMEM Vest to market.
Founded in 2014, Lever’s mission is to develop a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Berkshire/Bennington, Vermont, region. It supports entrepreneurs with expertise, low-cost office space, an investment fund, research, mentors, and access to talent through the Berkshire Business Interns program. To date, Lever-supported companies have created more than 130 jobs.
Editor’s note: The writer is both friends with and a former client of Alston.