Technology Connecting Families In The Age Of Social Distancing

By Eric Poole The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The "OhanaLink Baby" app allows expecting parents to invite family members into a virtual "waiting room," which enables them to connect with the parents-to-be throughout the process, including the child's actual birth, if that's what the parents-to-be want.

Hermitage

After missing one of her family's scrapbook moments -- the birth of her niece -- Kara Wasser thought about how to transform what she called a "chaotic experience" into a better experience.

From that, the mother of two gave birth to something else, a new business.

"I missed the birth of my niece because of bad communication. There was really no good tool," Wasser said. "I thought, 'There had to be a better way.'"

So she set out to make one. Her labor flowered Friday afternoon in the eCenter at LindenPointe in Hermitage, with the official start of Wasser's startup, OhanaLink Technologies.

The company's name -- as anyone who has seen the Disney animated movie and follow-on television series "Lilo and Stitch" well knows -- comes from the Hawaiian word for "family." And the app-based company is all about bringing families together for important moments, such as the birth of a child.

OhanaLink's first app, OhanaLink Baby, provides expecting parents to download the app and invite family members into a virtual "waiting room," which will enable them to connect with the parents-to-be throughout the process, including the child's actual birth, if that's what the parents-to-be want.

The "Baby" app, launched in mid-June, is available for $9.99, but those invited into the virtual "waiting room" can accept the parents' invitation at no cost.

While OhanaLink Baby is a one-time service for the birth of a child, Wasser said the company is working on an app to bring families together during extended medical treatments and procedures. The subscription service is expected to cost $2.99 a month.

Development of the app began about three years ago, but OhanaLink is hitting the market at an opportune time, with hospitals placing severe limits on visitors and family members accompanying patients because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The app will help both patients and their loved ones feel less isolated during hospital stays, Wasser said.

"We believe OLT offers unique solutions to families to enable that personal "touch that has been taken away from many of us due to COVID-19," she said.

OhanaLink Technologies has nine employees, but Wasser said it expects to add 20 to ribb30 more over the next two years.

During Friday's ribbon-cutting ceremony, Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sherris Moreira expressed excitement over the addition to the area's tech employment landscape.

"It is great to have a technological company, and a woman-owned technological company, coming to the area," Moreira said.

Others attending Friday's ceremony included Hermitage Cithy Manager Gary Hinkson and Assistant City Manager Gary Gulla, state Rep. Mark Longietti, D-7, Hermitage;Diane Helbig, representing state Sen. Michele Brooks, R-50, Jamestown; and Jill Burke, from the office of U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16, Butler.

Wasser, who lives in Hermitage, comes to the tech field from finance and banking, but said she was able to assemble a strong team, including fellow principals Chief Financial Officer Janet Earle of Greenville and Chief Technical Officer Thomas McKinley of the New Wilmington area.

Ben Franklin Technology Partners, a State College-based investor that works with tech entrepreneurs in northern and central Pennsylvania, was among the early investors in OhanaLink.

Wasser said she plans to pay her success forward to other local tech companies because she has an emotional investment in the area's success. "I have a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old, and I want to keep them here,"

Wasser said. "That's why I'm so passionate that this business not only starts here, but stays here."

NOTE: This article has been edited to reflect that Ben Franklin Technology Partners has not provided $1 million to OhanaLink. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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