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First Step is a yearlong innovation competition where UD undergraduate students create unique solutions to societal and environmental challenges. This years top two teams, one of which is called Haven, were invited to participate in the Innovation Showcase at the Hen Hatch Finals, the University of Delawares premier startup competition, hosted by Horn Entrepreneurship.
The Innovation Showcase provides teams with the chance to share their ideas and receive feedback from the UD community.
Haven, created over eight months by Karli Kovner, an Organizational and Community Leadership senior, and Madison Mucha, a Lerner College of Business and Economics senior, offers a cozy, casual sweatshirt for the ultimate relaxing experience at home or on the go.
Having the chance to practice my elevator pitch, receive feedback, and consider new ideas at the showcase was extremely rewarding and helpful in being able to continue with this venture, said Kovner. People understood that we are just getting started with our product and their willingness to hear us out and even suggest that they would want to purchase it made us feel spectacular.
The First Step program enables participants to choose a health-related topic of their choice, undertake research, and then come up with some type of product or project that will benefit the community.
When asked what inspired her to join the forces with Madison and come up with this product, Karli said, "I have always had that "I want to save the world" mentality which is why I ended up at UD with my OCL major, because we are learning how to be the change makers to the issues that are important to us. Throughout my time here I wanted to find one cause that I felt particularly passionate about and I was lucky enough to find it. Mental health is the most significant social issue to me because of personal experience and seeing those around me being impacted by it. I also a executive board member of the RSO Friends 4 Friends which focuses on mental health awareness and suicide prevention. This is why I chose the topic of mental health; allowing me to understand the scope of the problem better and also develop new solutions. When I was told about First Step I knew this was my chance to put myself out there and use the skills I've learned to give it a go and see where it takes me. It is all because I am passionate about it."
Kovner and Mucha chose to develop a coping tool specifically for college students, who are facing this mental health issues at a much greater rate than the general public. Their product is a prototype weighed sweatshirt that combines deep pressure stimulation, aromatherapy, and a soft, cozy material that allows the product to blend into environments such as the classroom, library, or at home. Deep pressure stimulation is helpful for sensory processing disorders but also for those affected by anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
The Haven project won two out of three prizes, one being the Innovation Award and another being Peoples Choice (the audience was able to vote). In total the team now has secured $5,000 for seed funding to grow their venture.
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"Entrepreneurship is something that I have developed a real love for. Between my addiction to Shark Tank and taking entrepreneurship classes through my minor I have been hopeful that I would someday come up with the next big thing," Kovner said. "At the current stage in my venture there is so much more to be done. We have to keep iterating and iterating on our design to make sure it works and also speak to more professionals who can steer us in the right direction. If dreams do come true, we will get this product in perfect condition and on the market, positively impacting lives for as long as possible. This is one self-help tool for anxiety and with more research and experimentation there could be no limit to how far we can go with a whole line of products. What is most important is that it works and that it's accessible to all. With a platform we could take it further and use our name to spread awareness and build communities around mental health."
During Kovner's time in the Organizational and Community Leadership (OCL) major, she has learned how to identify issues that impact society and use problem solving, creative thinking, and project management in order to come up with effective solutions.
On a larger scale, this venture benefits the UD community because mental health is a massive problem affecting each student personally or someone the student knows. It impacts school work, relationships, and willingness to participate in extracurriculars. Too many students are lost due to struggles with their mental health, and Kovner and Mucha are trying to break the stigma and provide a resource that can hopefully improve the quality of life of those suffering.