It took Kiersten Jones Schwendeman a year to build up the courage to share her startup idea.
Now, just two weeks after she pitched her concept at Startup Battle: Delaware, she’s been going nonstop — setting up meetings, talking with mentors, working with designers and developers, and so on.
Her concept — the Aster Center, which would help bridge the gap for people with eating disorders — won the most votes at the pitch-style competition event.
“I never had the courage or knew where to begin. It was a big intimidating factor,” said Schwendeman, 25. “I thought the idea was a little bit crazy, but I decided to go with it anyway.”
An innovative approach to a major problem.
Many clusters of treatment facilities are located in California, Arizona, Florida and New York, Schwendeman said, but Delaware residents have little access to treatment — the closest facility is 50 miles away. This means costly hospital and hotel stays, along with higher chances for relapse since patients don’t have the support they might have at home.
Schwendeman, a lifelong Delaware resident and University of Delaware psychology grad, said she hopes to create a permanent facility to address eating disorders in Newark near the UD campus.
At UD, Schwendeman said she saw many of her peers struggling with eating disorders. She’d like to root the center in downtown Newark to keep it convenient for the student population, while also attracting those in need from Delaware and Maryland.
Since a treatment center can’t be built overnight, the Aster Center team is also planning to incorporate technology (an app and platform) to bridge the existing gap in treatment. Many treatment websites, Schwendeman said, often list centers alphabetically, but not according to zip code or region, or by what services they provide.
“We want to connect people via Skype — with eating disorder therapists and psychiatrists if they don’t have access to that in the area,” Schwendeman said. “We’d use revenue from technology to fund the treatment center because that’s a large undertaking. We’re going to continue to expand our website, as well as an interactive map which connects people to existing resources in Delaware. I would love to expand that concept to other areas.”
Schwendeman said she would also like to expand her reach by working with schools and nurses to do early intervention for youth in Delaware.
When Schwendeman learned her concept would be moving on to the final round at Startup Battle, she assembled a team of designers and developers — all complete strangers. Pauline Rubin (whom we featured here), John Himics of First Ascent Design, Tristan Campos, a student a the Delaware College of Art and Design, and University of Delaware students Davis Pfund and Matthew Chen.
Along with the website the group created, the Aster Center also released a survey asking users to share their personal journey with an eating disorder, as well as where they’d like to see a physical treatment center in Delaware. Nearly 200 people responded to the survey the day it came out, Schwendeman said. More than 1,000 users have visited the website, with 3,500 total page views.
“One of the coolest things was just opening up the conversation,” Schwendeman said. “People we’re talking about eating disorders and sharing their stories. There’s still a huge stigma surrounding eating disorders, so this was really helpful.”
Since they won Delaware’s Startup Battle, the group was asked to create a 90 second video for Global Startup Battle. The Aster Center is in the running for regional and national honors; they’ll find out on Dec. 10 if they’ve won.
The team is busy applying for grants and to the DreamIt Athena program in Philadelphia, and will so begin to meet with mentors and potential investors.
“One of our biggest goals is to raise awareness,” Schwendeman said. “There’s a tremendous lack of knowledge around eating disorders.”-30-