Philadelphia startup takes on the devastating impact of sexual assault through wearable technology and a mission of education, awareness, and prevention.
In 2014, Yasmine Mustafa spent six months traveling alone through South America. Along the journey, she repeatedly heard stories from women across the continent who had been sexually assaulted. When she returned to Philadelphia, a woman in her neighborhood was attacked while feeding a parking meter.
These experiences compelled Mustafa to action, founding ROAR for Good with Anthony Gold, her good friend and business partner. Their mission was to start a movement that would change the conversation about rape culture and violence against women, and reduce assaults.
After consulting focus groups, user surveys, and law enforcement, they devised Athena: a smart wearable, personal safety device that – at the push of a button – emits an alarm and alerts authorities and selected contacts of an emergency.
“We found that many women don’t want to use existing self-defense tools, not just because they’re intimidating and combative, but because women are concerned of having such devices used against them,” said Gold.
Athena is wearable tech that easily and inconspicuously clips onto clothing or jewelry. The device is paired with an app that allows users to notify close contacts of potential danger or even ask them to keep an eye on their whereabouts.
ROAR is not just a product-based company – it’s a community and a movement focused on awareness, education, and empowerment.
“The sad truth is that no device is going to solve this issue,” says Gold. “That’s why we reinvest a substantial portion of our revenue into organizations that educate young men and women about empathy, respect, and healthy relationships.
“If we sell a lot of Athena devices yet have no societal impact, then we failed.”
Indeed, ROAR’s mission of change and prevention-over-profits is part of the reason why women of all ages across the world have chosen to own an Athena.
“People connect with our mission and that we are a female-led company focused on empowerment. It means something to them,” Gold said. “We need more male allies stepping up and making a difference, even just learning how to be a better bystander. We call these ‘women’s issues.’ These aren’t women’s issues. They’re societal issues and we need to start getting more men involved and acknowledging that change is needed.”
Part of that education is included in the ROAR app, where users can read curated stories that inspire and find information about sexual assault issues, ways to get involved, and, most importantly, resources to empower women and make a difference.
After a remarkably successful crowdfunding campaign in late 2015 (raising $300,000 – over 650% of their goal), the Athena device began shipping to patrons this spring with incredible reviews. For now, ROAR’s goal is to get Athena to as many women who need it as possible, relying on direct sales and a recent push toward retail and partnerships.
Comcast NBCUniversal partnered with ROAR to test Athena with college students and its own employees. Comcast sponsored a number of devices, many of which will be distributed to Philadelphia-area college students through a collaboration with Campus Philly.
“The unfortunate truth is that one in four female college students will be a victim of rape or attempted rape. That is sickeningly unacceptable and needs to be dramatically reversed,” Gold said.
Athena devices will also be given to attendees at the upcoming Comcast NBCUniversal annual TECHWomen Conference. Women in technology will come from across the country and all spheres of Comcast NBCUniversal to provide a diverse pilot group for ROAR.
“We’re helping ROAR by not just giving advice, but buying, trying, and pushing the limits of Athena,” said Danielle Cohn, Executive Director of Entrepreneurial Engagement at Comcast NBCUniversal. “It’s very important for us to be a first customer for startups to help encourage and improve burgeoning products.”
Mustafa and Gold are already planning the next iteration of the Athena, which will include new features, such as built-in GPS, advice the team heard from business leads at Comcast and elsewhere.
“The market is moving toward embedding this technology directly into clothing and making safety more ubiquitous,” Gold said. “We are looking at every way possible we can make a difference and help transform society.”
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