High school junior Bianca Schaen says she’s always suffered from anxiety. And now with the wide-ranging effects of the coronavirus crisis, she says she and other friends who also suffer from the condition have to work harder to manage their stress.
But Schaen, 17, and two other Ursuline Academy students, recently turned their focus on reducing stress into an idea that won the top award at the third annual high school pitch competition DelawareLaunch.
Schaen, Bridget Lugg (UA ’22) and Audrey Pachuta (UA ’23) developed the Bliss Box, a collection of comfort items intended to be used by mental health facilities and patients that could really be used for just about anybody under stress.
Each box has a collection of kinesthetic and tactile objects – essentially coping mechanisms that also relieve stress. “They are meant to ease anxiety and give patients a sense of self-control and grounding. And it gives them something to do other than their nervous habits, like twirling their hair or biting their nails,” says Schaen.
“While all of the teams competing had phenomenal pitches, Bliss Box had a very simple product that solved a crucial issue for our community and our generation,” said Delaware Entrepreneurship League founder and Charter School of Wilmington grad Markos Zerefos.
“Bliss Box is a feasible concept that has already started operations and is already serving the community. That is one of the core values that the Delaware Entrepreneurship League believes in — solving community problems — and Bliss Box did this well,” he said.
Ursuline sent two teams to participate in the Delaware Entrepreneurship League’s (DEL) February 20th pitch event at Cab Calloway School of the Arts. Other schools that participated included the Charter School of Wilmington, MOT Charter School, Newark Charter School, and Red Lion Christian Academy.
Eleven teams of students in all participated in the event, which was judged by a who’s who in the young entrepreneurship area: Bryce Fender (UD ’19), the president and co-founder of Wilminvest; Garry Johnson (UD ’18), the founder and director of the First Founder’s Accelerator at University of Delaware; and UD freshman Mike Shumate, the founder of Keyhole Games and a mental health advocate.
The final results:
- First Place: Bliss Box ~ Ursuline Academy
- Second Place: SwiftUp ~ Charter School of Wilmington – a fundraising app that allows donors to interact with the campaigns they are donating to in fun and engaging ways
- Third Place: Dose Technologies ~ Charter School of Wilmington – reducing drug overdoses by using new technology to ensure that proper dosages are administered
Zerefos founded DEL while in college with the help of other college and high school friends including Chris Kontomaris, Nick Ulizio, Megan Chen, and Apu Mutyala, who all help run the various entrepreneurship clubs in the Delaware Entrepreneurship League network.
Schaen and her teammates are members of Ursuline’s Entrepreneurship Club. She said her classmates had agreed that mental health was a significant issue for many high schoolers, but too often “unnoticed.”
So they took a business approach to the problem and conducted research to learn more about the prevalence of anxiety and stress.
This research and a survey of more than 100 high school students led to the development of the Bliss Box, containing objects such as a container of anxiety putty, a journal and a multicolored pen and a pamphlet.
Schaen, Pachuta and Lugg have a donation process that they call “adopt a box,” which they had set up at school for three weeks prior to school closing due to the coronavirus. For $8, anyone can adopt a box that will be sent to a mental health facility and a patient.
Each box costs just under $3. The students are putting the extra $5 they collect for each box toward funds for the future of their venture. The team has collected more than $200 in donations plus $100 in prize money from DelawareLaunch.
“We actually pitched last at the event, and the other ideas blew my mind. But I think what really set us apart in the judges’ eyes is that we had prototypes there for the judges to look at and we had some traction for our project because of our fundraising,” said Schaen.
Erin McNichol, Ursuline’s director of Innovation and Leadership said, “The interesting part of the Bliss Box project is that it is an example of resiliency. This project is a rebirth of an idea that started two years ago in leadership class. The team of students in the Entrepreneur Club decided to tweak the original plan for Bliss Box, keep things simple, and try again to launch this amazing idea. I am proud of their commitment, their mission to serve others, and the collaboration between all the members of this team–including their senior mentors,” she said.