Conversations with Current Embark Fellows
Richard Park '16 & Bella Okiddy MS '16, and Caroline Stevens AM '16 have received the 2016 Embark Post-Graduate Fellowship, which supports graduating students seeking to pursue their entrepreneurial ventures as full-time endeavors post-graduation.
Here, the Fellows share their stories and innovations.
Richard & Bella
What inspired you to start this venture?
Richard: I was sexually assaulted when I was 18. But back then, I didn't know much. I was drunk. I hadn't been educated on what to recognize. So I thought it was my fault. I only recognized what had happened when I got to Brown and sat through the Alcohol and Sexual Assault talks that all first-years go through during Orientation.
A lot of my motivation stems from my personal experience and the realization that I can actually use my education as a biomedical engineer to positively affect reporting sexual assault.
Bella: The initial idea came from Sandra Kimokoti, a friend who'd spent some time in Kenya educating young people on the process of reporting sexual assault and violence. She talked about how the systems in place put a lot of responsibility on survivors and wondered if there was a way to change this.
Conversations with Sandra and others helped me step out of my comfort zone to try and start this venture. One turning point was when we got positive feedback from Richard's advisor and realized that we really could make this a reality.
How did you meet?
Bella: We met during our sophomore year in a Biomaterials class. But we really didn't get to know each other till we travelled around Europe during our junior spring. I was studying abroad in Dublin while Richard was in Paris, and he just messaged me out of the blue - asking if I'd like to travel around Europe. This was a first for me, but I thought "why not?" I always wonder about what life would be like if I'd said no.
What's the biggest challenge you've encountered already, or can foresee in the future?
Richard: I don't think I've ever had to talk about my feelings so much. Working with a close friend, you think you know them--that's what I thought about Bella until I realized that we're actually quite different! It's been such an interesting process getting to know one another on a deeper level given the venture and the fields it touches.
Bella: The biggest challenge I've encountered is making sure that I keep the momentum and energy going— especially as I'm also working towards my Master's degree. It has been a slight battle, but one that I'm winning because of the support of my friends and family. The fact that Richard and I work as a team has also helped keep me grounded.
This venture means a lot to the both of us and I want to make sure that I'm always contributing my share as we work towards this goal.
How do you hope your venture will change lives? Where do you envision it going a year from now, five years from now?
Richard: I'm working towards a future where if someone is sexually assaulted, they can go to any hospital and find it not only accommodating but also validating and empathetic.
But it doesn't end there. Scientifically, I'm working towards a future where if the survivor decides to report their assault, the forensic results of their kit are available to them within the week and there is an advocate available to talk them through the results.
In five years? I'd like for our technology to be in every hospital in New England and at least one other country. Hopefully Kenya, since that's where Bella's from and where this idea started. Plus, I'd finally be able to take Bella up on her invitation to visit her home.
Bella: I think this venture has already changed my life. My perception, opinions, confidence... the list is endless. I’ve learned to recognize my own equilibrium and I hope that this continues as I work to improve myself. I want to continue this growth as we work to change the process of reporting sexual assault.
A year from now, I see Technologies Against Assault distributing new sexual assault kits as a part of the RI community. My vision for the venture in the following years is that we continue to connect with communities and include their input in the kits we aim to create and distribute. Five years from now, I envision the company in multiple states as well as back in my home country, Kenya, working to create a new culture around sexual assault reporting.
How would you describe your venture in 30 seconds?
Doors Open Rhode Island is a nonprofit that connects the public to the great--and often hidden or inaccessible--places of Rhode Island. We’ll do this through programs planned throughout the year, and an annual free weekend festival. The festival is essentially a statewide “open house”.
Getting this special access fosters a greater sense of pride and connectedness to where we live.
It’s basically the coolest thing ever. Suddenly you have the keys to our cities.
What kinds of spaces?
There will be a huge variety. Places that you walk by every day but have never been inside, such as that church on your corner, or maybe the top floor of the iconic Industrial Trust building. Or places you’ve never heard of, like did you know that the largest collection of frescoes in North America is located in Woonsocket?
How did you come up with this?
I used to manage a version of this festival in Chicago, called Open House Chicago, that’s grown into the largest architecture event in the country. It’s part of a movement of “open house” festivals found in 44 countries around the world.
Why do we need something like Doors Open RI?
Would you believe that Rhode Island is the least appreciated state in the country? Only 18% of Rhode Islanders believe that Rhode Island is one of the best places to live.. I think people just aren’t aware of everything Rhode Island has to offer.
It’s by having access to these places in our backyard that we become connected to them. We become their stewards or ambassadors, and feel a greater sense of belonging and pride in where we live Growing our civic pride will grow our economy and help build stronger cities.
Sounds great. When can we do it?
The festival will pilot in Providence 2017 with 50 sites and 5,000 visitors. Within three years it will grow to a statewide festival with 150 sites and 20,000 visitors.
We’ll also have programs throughout the year--scavenger hunts, 3D film screenings, behind-the-scenes tours.
It will all happen through creating a network of community partnerships.
What’s your biggest challenge?
Funding, of course! But there’s also this incredibly important question of how to reach a large, diverse audience --making sure that everyone across Rhode Island sees what they love about where they live reflected in the program.
What’s one really fun thing that people should know about you?
I make really crazy halloween costumes.
It’s true. I make crazy giant animal heads. I am an artist of duct tape.