Epic H2O: Building a Business One Sip at a Time

August 9, 2013  
Filed under Business

Dr. Robert Tyzbir (left) with wife, and business partner, Elaine. (Courtesy photo)

By Phyl Newbeck

It all started with a smart-alecky student.

Dr. Robert Tyzbir, a University of Vermont faculty member for four decades, was explaining to his sports nutrition class the best substances to promote recovery after physical activity. He suggested that one of them could become rich by putting together a product combining those substances and a student asked why he didn’t do it himself. Tyzbir explained that his job was education, not manufacturing, prompting one wag to bring out the age-old adage, “those that can, do; those that can’t, teach.” Faced with that challenge, Tyzbir decided to give production a try and his company, Epic H2O, was born.

Tyzbir, who founded UVM’s sports nutrition program and has a PhD in biochemistry, began mixing ingredients in his Williston kitchen. He used his own money for the start-up company so he would not be beholden to anyone. Tyzbir believes the increase in obesity in America is due at least in part to sugary soft drinks, so it was crucial that his product contain pure glucose and no fructose. Additionally, he refused to use high fructose corn syrup, table sugar, lactose, caffeine or other stimulants, or artificial colors or sweeteners.

After a great deal of experimentation, Tyzbir found the formula for Epic—glucose, a blend of essential amino acids that help rebuild muscle after exercise, electrolytes and water-soluble vitamins and antioxidants. The lemon flavor of the product was tweaked after experimentation with various members of UVM’s athletic teams. Epic comes in powder form in small cylindrical containers and is designed to be mixed with a minimum of eight ounces of water. It can be drunk before, during or after exercise.

Epic has been tested by the World Anti-Doping Agency and found to have no harmful ingredients. Several UVM athletes use Epic, but the university can’t buy it for its teams because NCAA rules prohibit athletic departments from purchasing products with amino acids. Tyzbir said the rule was created because these products are expensive and schools with better endowments would have an unfair advantage over poorer institutions. Student-athletes can purchase Epic on their own.

Once he had his product, Tyzbir approached a former student, Chris Rivard, who was working for Bariatrix in South Burlington. It was Rivard’s idea to use the formula to make sticks of powder rather than a liquid. The packaging currently reads “made in Canada,” which is Bariatrix’s home base, but soon it will be made in Vermont.

“Every ingredient is highly purified and natural,” said Tyzbir.

While Robert Tyzbir created the product, he credits his wife, Elaine, another nutritionist, with doing all the post-production work. She went door-to-door visiting chiropractors, health food stores, physical therapists and sports shops. The couple also did demonstrations at various establishments and provided free samples at local races. Epic is carried in stores throughout Chittenden County including Natural Provisions and the Vermont Center for Chiropractic and Sports Medicine in Williston.

The company was launched in 2010 and although the Tyzbirs had testimonials from users, they had no empirical evidence their product was working. That changed when UVM undergraduate Danielle Leahy commenced a study with Professor Stephen Pintaro. Several non-athletes were asked to come in for a four-day exercise regimen, after which they either took Epic or a placebo that looked and tasted like Epic. They took three weeks off, then repeated the procedure—except the students who had Epic were given the placebo and vice versa. The women in the study experienced a 45 percent decrease in delayed muscle soreness and the duration of the soreness was shortened by one day with Epic. The men also had a decrease in both the delay and the duration but it was not statistically significant, leading Tyzbir to believe they should have had an increased dosage.

The Tyzbirs are not counting on getting rich from their company. Some of the proceeds will go to the Tyzbir Scholarship for needy students majoring in nutrition at UVM and some will go to Smile Train, a nonprofit which repairs children’s cleft palates. The couple also sells the product at cost to nonprofits like the Chittenden County Nordic Soccer Team. Last year, the girls team went door-to-door selling Epic to raise enough money to go to Scandinavia for a tournament.

Elaine Tyzbir said the couple’s goal was to create a healthier alternative to what was on the market. They were gratified at a recent RunVermont event where Epic was requested so often they ran out of product.

Robert Tyzbir said he is proud of the fruits of his labors.

“This stuff really works,” he said.

For more information, visit www.epic-h2o.com.


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