Embark fellowship from Swearer Center to support graduates’ entrepreneurial ventures

Two biomedical engineering students intend to produce quick-turnaround forensic lab kits for sexual assault cases.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University's Swearer Center for Public Service has selected the 2016 recipients for its second annual Embark Fellowship — including graduate student Bella Okiddy and senior Richard Park from the School of Engineering.

The Embark Fellowship was created in 2015 by the Social Innovation Initiative at Brown'sSwearer Center for Public Service – with additional funding from the Brown Entrepreneurship Program and its alumni advisory board – to support graduating students in launching business ventures with a strong potential for social impact. It is designed to not only help their ventures gain traction, but to encourage the Brown alumni community to support new graduates in the field. The Fellowship provides a combination of direct financial support, structured opportunities for fundraising, access to a network of professional services and connections to an alumni community of innovators.

Earlier this month, this year's fellows launched crowdfunding campaigns to raise $40,000 from the Brown community and beyond over the course of the next month. If the fellows are successful, they will receive matching grants from the Embark Fellowship; these funds are intended to allow the fellows to work on their ventures full time after graduation. In 2015, the inaugural cohort of Embark Fellows collectively raised $107,000 in their crowdfunding campaigns, far surpassing their $55,000 goal.

"We have found that often, the students who are able to work on their ventures full time upon graduation are the ones who have the family and personal resources to support them financially," said Alan Harlam, director of innovation and social entrepreneurship at the Swearer Center. "We are leveling the playing field by helping ensure that the ventures with the strongest potential are the ones who receive this high level of support"

Technologies Against Assault is the brainchild of Okiddy and Park; Okiddy is completing a master's degree in biomedical engineering, and Park is a senior concentrating in the same field. The company will produce sexual assault kits and forensic lab kits with technology capable of reducing the entire results reporting process from months and years to just weeks. Current turnaround time for these tests ranges from three months to a year; by creating kits that will more quickly confirm and validate survivor experiences, they aim to facilitate an environment in which more survivors feel empowered to report their assaults.

"I'm working toward a future where, if a survivor decides to report their assault, the forensic results of their kit are available to them within the week," Park said, "and where there is an advocate available to talk them through the results."

Okiddy hopes the impact will be global.

"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," she said.

Additional details on the ventures supported through this year's Embark Fellowship can be found on the Swearer Center website.

- by O'rya Hyde-Keller