By Diane Mastrull
The Philadelphia Inquirer.
If Yasmine Mustafa’s business goal for her self-defense technology company, Roar for Good L.L.C., is met, the world will be a safer place for women.
It’s an ambitious undertaking, inspired more by empathy than earnings — an empathy for the mistreated, a topic this daughter of Palestinian parents knows about from personal experience.
At age 8, Mustafa was forced from her native Kuwait when Saddam Hussein’s troops invaded in 1990. She, her parents, and her five brothers and sisters had just two hours to pack for relocation to the United States. Her father owned a 7-Eleven store in Royersford until 2000.
A year later, the family encountered ethnic bias after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “We were told to go back to our country,” Mustafa recalled. Tauntings were so bad for her brother Osama, he changed his name to Adam.
Last week, Mustafa became tearful when she described how it felt to not belong anywhere as a Middle Eastern child growing up around Philadelphia, “stuck in this space between Arab and American.” Yet the entrepreneur, now 32, described herself as having “lucked out” in life.
That Gulf War-inspired exit from Kuwait, she said, enabled her to escape a likely future as an oppressed woman in a part of the world where a rape victim is more apt to be jailed than her attacker.
With the launch of Roar for Good, her fourth venture, Mustafa — who has a business degree from Temple University — has her eye on this bottom line:
“I want to leave some type of impact and make somebody’s life better.”
Roar will attempt to do that with wearable technology no bigger than a watch face. When activated, it will emit a loud alarm and flashing lights. Interacting with the wearer’s phone via a Bluetooth chip, it also will call 911 and send a text alert of the person’s whereabouts to designated contacts.
The company also has developed a phone app that will notify users of crime patterns in their vicinity and allow them to input their own safety-related observations.
The app launch is planned for October. The wearable device — anticipated for use as a bracelet, necklace, or belt attachment — is expected on the market early next year. Pricing is not yet set.
Roar plans to devote part of its revenue to programs that teach respect for women and sexual consent. For each safety accessory sold, one will be donated to a woman in a developing country.
“One of the tricky parts is figuring out something that people will actually remember to take with them, and want to take with them,” said Kostas Nasis of Cherry Hill, chief technology officer at SnipSnap, developer of an app that enables printed coupons to be scanned, saved, and redeemed on mobile phones.
Nasis is overseeing hardware development at Roar (www.useroar.com).
Last week brought news Nasis and Mustafa found encouraging: The Apple Watch will be available to consumers next year.
“We’ll also develop an app for the iWatch that supports similar functionality, and to make it easy for users of both, whether they have our wearable or the iWatch, to be notified of important tips and to report incidents and call for help,” Mustafa said.
To help pay for manufacturing, Roar expects to seek $50,000 to $150,000 in crowd-sourcing funds through an Indiegogo campaign in January.
Roar is one of four young companies currently participating in the Project Liberty Digital Incubator hosted by Interstate General Media, owners of The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com. It is operated by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania and funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
“It’s good for Philly; it’s good for women in Philly,” Cory Donovan, manager of the incubator, said of Roar’s product line. “We wanted to try to help make sure it happened.”
Serving as an adviser to Roar is Anthony Gold of West Chester, who, after building some IT businesses, now provides career-advancement advice and also invests in start-ups. He said a seemingly logical market for Roar was college campuses.
“I’d love to see them opening their arms and saying: ‘This is the greatest thing. How can we get involved?’ ” Gold said. “My gut says there’s going to be a lot of inertia. Institutions of higher education are not known for their rapid implementation of new ideas.”
Mustafa said she had, indeed, experienced that reluctance in preliminary outreach to colleges, and has been frustrated by it. “It’s nuts. It’s really crazy.”
That there is a need for her product, she has no doubt. The affirmation came to Mustafa last year when, after several intense years getting three start-ups off the ground, she spent six months traveling through South America to “get away from my laptop, enjoy life, and figure out what I really wanted.”
On that journey through Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina, and Chile, she said, “I kept meeting women who were assaulted.”
Then, about two weeks after Mustafa returned to Philadelphia, a 29-year-old woman feeding a parking meter in Mustafa’s neighborhood was beaten, raped, and robbed in an alley. Mustafa promptly created Roar.
The company’s name: the same as a Katy Perry song about female empowerment.