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“No sports!” British Prime Minister Winston Churchill – a known cigar smoker and whiskey lover – is alleged to have said this when asked how he achieved his old age. Today we know this is only a legend! The right “dose” of sports and exercise is effective in restoring health, a fact that has also been picked up by health insurance companies and enterprises. A young startup team from the University of Potsdam wants to take advantage of this boom. The startup “MILON” develops customized occupational health management geared especially to small and medium-sized enterprises and also ensures its implementation.
“Our basic idea is actually quite simple,” explains Arndt Torick. “We help companies create the best possible health promotion services for their employees. What makes us special is that we offer a one-stop solution: from the scientific analysis of the company’s current situation to the development and implementation of appropriate courses and formats.” Torick is a qualified sports scientist and, like his two colleagues – sports teacher Yolanda Ageitos and sports scientist Anett Stolle – is well-versed when it comes to health promotion. All three have been working in this field for several years as trainers in companies, as sports therapists, and also in research. Formerly, Torick worked as a research assistant at the Department of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Potsdam for several years. Today he is not only working as a trainer and sport therapist, he also trains instructors of prevention courses. Ageitos specializes in nutrition, while Stolle, who also worked at the Department, has expertise in preventive and rehabilitative exercise programs and relaxation techniques.
The team needs this range of expertise if they want to be up to the task they set for themselves. From proper and adequate exercise, specific and skillful relaxation to a healthy diet and various means of prevention of addiction: health management has become rather complex. In June 2015, the German Parliament passed the Prevention Act, which requires all companies to offer occupational health management to their employees. “The new law obliges companies to offer occupational health management but also rewards them with tax benefits. Many companies want to introduce it but do not know how,” says Ageitos. Health insurance companies are often the first point of contact. They are legally obliged to support companies in developing prevention services but are not allowed to conduct them themselves. “So we thought that we should start at this point and not only ensure the continuation of these courses, but also accompany the process from the very beginning,” adds Torick. “We have had this idea for quite some time. The law then inspired us to risk the leap into self-employment. "
The demand for the health experts’ knowledge is high. They have developed a great network over the years and have no shortage of interested companies. Their first inquiries began rolling in even before their company was officially founded. It is certainly beneficial that MILON is a “university spin-off” and that the three gained their initial experience in sports science research. “In our field there is a high demand for this,” says Torick. “After all, it is important for our partners not to put their occupational health management into the hands of self-proclaimed experts, who have hastily completed a few weekend courses.”
For the young entrepreneurs, startup know-how was a hurdle on the road to forming their own company. “Everything related to establishing a business was absolutely new for us,” says Torick. “We were constantly talking about our idea, and a former fellow student recommended the startup services of Potsdam Transfer. There we would get the right advice. And that is what we did.” The team was accepted into Potsdam Transfer’s accelerator program in 2015. After their first interview, they gradually developed a viable business model together with the founding consultants. A subsequent three-day intensive workshop made clear, however, that they needed further coaching regarding legal matters and business management know-how. Torick and his teammates were coached individually to answer their questions: How do you actually start a business? How do you run it? What needs to be considered regarding for example trademark law, patent law, and tax law?
The three founders of MILON are now well prepared and can concentrate on their core business, the four areas that are part of the Prevention Act: exercise, relaxation, nutrition, and prevention of addiction. Not everything is equally relevant for every company – and here the scientists’ expertise comes into play. “We first visit the company and discuss the possibilities and limits of their occupational health management with the director or the person in charge,” explains Ageitos. They then analyze the company’s individual situation. A company for building technologies, for example, has two large groups of employees with completely different working conditions and sequences of movements: administrative employees who spend the day at the computer and field staff servicing properties on-site. MILON develops the respective information and courses: “We then teach one group how to properly sit at work and the other how to correctly lift loads,” says Stolle. “Informational events are not enough, of course. Knowing how to do it correctly does not mean that they will do so in the future. It requires training. We then arrange the adequate back therapy training courses.”
But that is not all. “It is hardly helpful if I move properly but have the wrong diet,” Ageitos adds. “The Prevention Act is well structured.” It provides guidance not only for healthy exercise at various workplaces and relaxation courses, but also nutrition seminars and events on prevention of addiction. For the MILON team, these health management elements go together hand-in-hand and result in a positive interaction when properly dosed and used.
This is where Milo of Croton, the startup’s namesake, comes into play. He was the superstar athlete of the ancient world, so to speak. It is not Milo’s success, though, that led the founding trio to adopt his name. The “founding myth” and the starting point of MILON’s work is the legend of how he became an excellent athlete. Milo was said to be a sickly child. Stronger boys would tease him and even beat him up because he was unable to fight back. The boy decided to change this by getting stronger. Legend has it that Milo began carrying a calf, and the bigger and heavier the calf got, the stronger the boy became.
“For us, the legend is an ideal symbol for the setting of stimuli and the body’s adaptation to them,” explains Torick. “This is the basis for the work of every teacher, coach, and therapist. The challenge is to set the right stimuli at the right time.”
For the sports scientists at MILON, the secret of successful occupational health management lies in the correct proportion of these aspects, which has to be carefully identified. By the way, Winston Churchill, who was anything but a couch potato when he was young, said, “Offer the body something pleasurable so that the soul feels like living in it.“ It turns out he was right.
When he was 15 years old, Milo of Croton took part in the boys’ wrestling competition at the 60th Olympic Games in 540 BC. Starting in the 62nd Olympic Games, he dominated “his” sport, winning the men’s wrestling title five times. He was a six-time Periodonikes: a winner of all pan-Hellenistic games – the Pythian, Isthmian, and Nemian Games – in the same four-year cycle, more times than anyone before and after him. He also made a name for himself as a commander and as a follower of the philosopher Pythagoras of Samos.
Yolanda Ageitos completed her training as a medical-technical assistant and dental technician. She then studied to become a sports teacher at the University of Vigo in Spain.
Anett Stolle studied sports sciences with a special focus on rehabilitation and prevention at the University of Potsdam. Since 2001, she has been working as a sports scientist in the therapeutic sector and in occupational health promotion. For some time she researched at the Department of Sport and Health Sciences.
Arndt Torick studied sports sciences at the University of Potsdam with a special focus on rehabilitation and prevention. Until 2014, he worked as a sports scientist at the Department of Sport and Health Sciences of the University of Potsdam. He then worked in occupational health promotion and management, and as a sports therapist and lecturer in various fields of prevention and rehabilitation.
Text: Matthias Zimmermann
Translated by: Susanne Voigt
Published online by: Daniela Großmann
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