At their recent Business is an adventure event in Boston, Virgin Atlantic invited three local entrepreneurs to share their business dilemmas with Richard Branson and his fellow panel members, with the aim of finding a solution for the problem they were faced with.
One of the start-ups to bend the ear of the Virgin Group founder, Flare Jewelry, particularly caught his and our attention. Afterwards we sat down with co-founder, Sara de Zarraga, to learn a little bit more about the business and the mission that drives it.
So, to start things off, what is Flare Jewelry and how do the products actually work?
"Flare is a modern personal safety device. It’s smart jewellery that provides you with discreet protection whenever you need it. Our technology fits inside a modular piece that can be hidden in a variety of gems or charms. You can clip it into several different styles of bracelets or necklaces. This way, you can wear Flare all the time, no matter your style or what you’re wearing.
"Flare can be activated in two modes. The emergency mode emits a loud alarm which surprises your attacker and attracts a lot of attention, giving you a moment to take action. It also sends a text message to your emergency contacts sharing your GPS location and asking them to come help right away or call the police. Plus, it records audio so that you have a record of what happened in case you need it later. Silent mode is for situations where it’s not safe to activate the alarm or you don’t want your attacker to know that you’re calling for help. It sends a message to your emergency contacts with your GPS location and asks them to call you to make sure that you’re ok, plus it records audio."
With so many high profile cases of sexual assault in the news as of late, including many in college campuses across the US, was it this growing trend which gave the Flare team the motivation to get to work?
"One in three women experience sexual violence in their lifetime, which is incredible. Quinn (Fitzgerald, co-founder) and I had unfortunately experienced sexual assaults ourselves and there have been way too many friends and family members who have as well. The problem feels like it’s growing and we felt like there needed to be a change. Many of the changes required - education, women’s rights, etc - will really take a long time to accomplish. However something which could change immediately was to give women better tools to defend themselves.
"The existing devices that women have to defend themselves are really antiquated. Whistles, alarms, pepper spray - there are a lot of issues with all of these different options. When I was an undergrad first year students were given whistles, which is absurd - nobody is going to carry a whistle around with them. Then when I graduated and moved to New York my mom bought me a can of pepper spray, which isn't practical either - for a start it’s illegal in a lot of states."
Given the emotive nature of the business, what has the reaction to the product been like?
"We’ve been talking to students, parents and charities - it’s often been a very emotional thing to go through. We did a pitch on the Boston Common at this festival and women were interrupting us to cheer, afterwards they would come up and tell us about how they, or someone close to them, was raped and what it means to them. 'I need this now' has been a common response, we didn’t expect such a reaction, it’s been very moving for us."
As with any new business, Flare must have come up against its fair share of barriers - what have they been and how are you overcoming them?
"Product development is tricky. Like most start-ups we searched for a long time to find the right people, thankfully now we have two incredible engineers and a designer. Finding people with the right skillset, the appetite to work on a start-up and who care about what we’re doing at Flare is incredibly challenging.
"It’s so important that what we make is not a gimmick, it needs to be something that actually helps women. We’re striving to be a profitable enterprise that can grow dynamically, but also we want to deliver some really change to people’s lives. To do that, from our perspective, we need to get as much feedback from customers as possible. That means making countless prototypes and testing it on consumers. Our number one goal has been to get the prototypes on the arms of women and make sure it’s something they want to wear and that it really works, so it was great to discuss this with the panel."
To see what the panel had to say, click play on the above and fast-forward to 46:00.