USC students launch startup aiming to prevent sexual assault on college campuses
LOS ANGELES - A group of students at the University of Southern California have developed a startup to help prevent sexual assaults on college campuses nationwide.
The product is an app called Brave that is linked to a wristband, and it aims to give students a way to discreetly notify their friends if they're in danger. When someone is in trouble, they tap the wristband, and it will send a notification to everyone in the Brave network, along with a map showing the person's exact location and directions on how to get there.
"With a Brave band, you're only just two taps away to let your friends know that you need help, and it sends them your exact location," said Kian Abrishami, a USC senior studying Biomedical Engineering and Computer Science. "We want to create a safe environment for everybody. Fundamentally, we're not just a bracelet company. We're an empowerment movement that gives students a tool to protect themselves."
Abrishami is the passionate founder and CEO of Brave. Abrishami said he has seen the impacts of sexual assault firsthand on campus and growing up.
"I just had too many friends getting sexually assaulted, and the reported statistics are one in four women in college getting sexually assaulted every year, and at some schools, that's one in three," he said.
Brave started as a solo mission for Abrishami.
"It was just me by myself for the past year and a half, and then my team found me. I was reaching out to different support communities around campus, and I was running around like a chicken without a head to be honest," he said.
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Now, Brave has a team of software engineers, product developers and marketers.
"We have survivors on the team and this is a mission driven by students for students," said Abrishami.
Grace Miedziak, a USC junior studying Music Production and Technology, and the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Brave, is utilizing her skills for the startup too.
"I had to join the Brave team because prevention is so critical because I'm also passionate about preventing people from becoming survivors in the first place as well as helping survivors heal," said Miedziak.
Miedziak is the upcoming president of the Survivor Support Community at USC, an organization on campus that focuses on healing, advocacy and prevention for survivors on campus.
"I interact with a lot of survivors and almost everybody has a story and if not themselves, it's someone really close to them so this issue is so pervasive in our society, but especially at college, and we realized we needed to do something now to address this," she said.
Throughout April, Brave launched a beta test of its app and wristband with hundreds of student testers, starting with students from the Survivor Support Community.
"We want to hear their (survivors') feedback first with how comfortable they're feeling with the product, what they think about it. And we don't want to just stop with Survivor Support Community, we want to reach out to all communities that might be more vulnerable to sexual violence as well. For example, the LGBT+ community has elevated rates of experiencing violence," said Miedziak.
The plan is for the bracelets to eventually operate without the need for phone access.
"There are many situations where people would feel uncomfortable taking out their phone if they feel unsafe. There's also something called the freeze response that a lot of people experience, especially if there's someone close to them that they thought was a friend, they might freeze," said Miedziak.
The team is collecting data and feedback from its test.
"We can keep track of data to see which spots on campus have the highest rate of sexual assault-related alerts," said Abrishami.
The team has a large marketing component too, which is led by USC junior, Taylor Vangrin, who is studying business and serves as Brave's Chief Marketing Officer.
"Social media presence is so important with developing a community of like-minded people that want to be empowered to promote safety. We are expanding our team at Brave by involving brand ambassadors, so they can create user generated content on their platforms as well as post on our own platform, so we can grow our community to as many people as possible. It's not just women who are affected by sexual assault, it's everyone," said Vangrin.
Vangrin said working on the startup does not feel like work at all.
"I think working towards something that's bigger than yourself, especially with this issue in particular that touches so many people's lives, it means the world to me," she said.
However, launching a startup is a hefty task for students who are already juggling college classes and college life too.
"It has been a lot of long nights, a lot of early mornings, a lot of people not believing in me, but we're not stopping anytime soon," said Abrishami.
Abrishami said the team plans to get Brave to market by fall 2023, and the pre-sale price is $45.99 per Brave band.
"That price is gonna go down as we bundle it, so this works effectively if you purchase it in a group with your friends and students, or if you buy it for your children," said Abrishami.
The team is also in talks with corporate partners.
"Ultimately we want to get these sold directly to the universities, so it's at zero cost to the users and zero cost to the students who need it the most. We want to work with big corporate partners so they can help us deliver the most impact to the students, and ultimately it shows a visible commitment towards positive social change on their end and the university's end to keep everybody safe and enhance college life," said Abrishami.
Abrishami believes the band can be used in other scenarios as well or any time someone needs to get in quick contact with their friends or loved ones.
"People need an instant way to contact their friends and connect with them any time they're in a bad situation. That Brave band is a lifeline," he said.
Currently, Brave is exclusively taking pre-sale orders through their website, braveband.tech.