A company that helps connect people with chronic illnesses for social support is one of four startups comprising the latest cohort at the Desai Accelerator, a joint venture between the University of Michigan's (U-M) Ross School of Business and U-M's College of Engineering.
The Ann Arbor business accelerator nurtures startups who are past the earliest stages of development but not yet seeking external investors. This is the first year Desai has hosted two cohorts in one year.
Participants in the 13-week summer accelerator program include Find Your Ditto, a mobile social platform for those with chronic illnesses; Ascape Audio, which creates uniquely-designed wireless earbuds; Gwydion, a virtual reality software firm specializing in the post-secondary education and research field; and TwoScoreTwo, which makes products for secure data storage and unhackable money transfers.
Brianna Wolin, co-founder of Find Your Ditto along with partner Parisa Soraya, says the $25,000 investment that comes along with being chosen for the accelerator is great, but it's the people they interact with that are making the difference.
"It's great to be surrounded by people providing mentorship, networks, and resources for fundraising," Wolin says. "It allows for greater connections and plans for securing early adopters who can push us to the next level."
Find Your Ditto's mission is near and dear to Wolin's heart, since she has been living with celiac disease and Type 1 diabetes since she was 4 years old.
When Soraya put up a Facebook post asking to interview someone with a chronic illness, Wolin responded. The two hit it off, and Soraya got special permission to include Wolin, then an undergrad, in a an innovation competition sponsored by U-M's School of Public Health.
The two proposed an online platform that helps people with chronic illnesses find others with the same condition living nearby so they can support one another, filling a gap in existing services.
Right now, people with chronic illnesses can get in-person coaching at hospital-run support groups, but they have little control over when support group sessions are held or what topics are covered. On the flip side, people can get support day or night from online forums, but those lack the in-person component.
Find Your Ditto allows those suffering from chronic illnesses to decide when and how often to meet in person and what topics will be discussed, Wolin says.
Since that student competition, the two co-founders have been through several pitch competitions and an early-stage accelerator. They hope that the Desai experience will lead to even greater investments in the company's future.
"We're forever grateful for that belief, that trust they have in the importance of what we're doing and our ability to scale our business," Wolin says.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of Brianna Wolin.