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These founders couldn’t find products to meet their needs. So they made their own

The entrepreneurs behind three of Technical.ly's RealLIST Startups shared the inspiration behind their pandemic-bred companies.

(L to R) BLK DYMND Rewards CEO Art Robinson, Trustible AI CEO Gerald Kierce, ReBokeh CEO Rebecca Rosenberg and Youme CEO Hafeezah Muhammad. (Photo courtesy of an anonymous Builders Conference attendee)

What do you do if you’re a visually impaired person or the parent of a child in need of mental health services who can’t find the perfect product to solve a major problem you’re facing?

Sometimes, you build a solution yourself.

For ReBokeh Vision Technologies CEO Rebecca Rosenberg, BLK DYMND Rewards CEO Art Robinson, and Youme Healthcare CEO Hafeezah Muhammad, their socially minded startups came to be not out of a desire to be the next Steve Jobs, but because of the realization that if they didn’t become founders, they wouldn’t find another way to get their needs met.

Whether their HQ is in Pittsburgh or Maryland, what these pandemic-era founders have in common was that they noticed a gap in tech or services and they set out to fill it.

Youme

In 2020, Muhammad said, like many people during that early stage of the pandemic, her young son was experiencing depression. Despite being an exec at a large mental health company at the time, she found it difficult to find him the care he needed. It was the inspiration she needed to found an online platform to bring telehealth therapy for children, teens and families in need of behavioral and mental health services.

Although the pandemic exacerbated many existing societal problems, it also allowed Youme Healthcare to reach people that could benefit from it, Muhammad said during a Builders Conference panel of RealLIST Startups founders during Philly Tech Week 2023 presented by Comcast.

“I think I’m very grateful for the pandemic, for two things. It allowed us to be able to move our business online so that we can reach those kids and families in rural communities,” the Windsor Mill, Maryland-based CEO said. “But also, a good thing is that it actually put mental health on top for a lot of people, a lot of organizations, so they made it [less] stigmatized.”

BLK DYMND Rewards

In Pittsburgh-based Robinson’s case, he wanted a way to incentivize support for Black-owned businesses, but couldn’t find such a thing on the market.

By creating a banking app that offers cash-back rewards for customers shopping on it, the two-time entrepreneur feels he’s creating a situation that benefits both the businesses and the individuals making the purchases.

“What I found with the other cash back applications in the market, they didn’t focus on … Black-owned products and brands,” Robinson said.

ReBokeh

As a visually impaired person, Baltimore’s Rosenberg had always wanted there to be better technology options for people like her, she said. Yet she found most of the tech that did exist was either too expensive or too bulky.

While studying for a biomedical engineering degree, she came up with the idea for an app that leverages the piece of hardware that people were carrying — their smartphone — to make it into a visual aid through an app. She wanted it to be something that benefited visually impaired users without them having to justify the purchase to insurance companies or be further inconvenienced by its presence.

“What I wanted to do for this very specific population was have something that was discreet, that was portable, and that was not an extra $5,000,” Rosenberg said. “So I ultimately decided that camera hardware on your phone is really good. People already have one anyway, so why not take advantage of that?”

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: BLK DYMD Rewards / ReBokeh / Backpack Healthcare

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