In what ways have you seen your technology help those who have been affected by the epidemic?
It was really interesting to be talking with people when we did our clinical studies. We did clinical studies with people in early recovery from opioid use disorder, interviewing them, meeting with them often, on a weekly [basis], or even more, to check-in about how their device was working for them and the application part of it. We had a much lower relapse rate among participants.
It was over half in terms of the standard relapse rate, so we were very heartened by that. We also got direct interview feedback from both our participants and also other people in recovery who we interviewed about our system components, and we received very positive feedback. It's really important to us to use human-centered design. So when we had myself and other UX team members interviewing folks, we wanted to make sure that all the components made people comfortable.
What could we do to improve? We changed multiple elements of our system based on feedback from folks who directly used it, and also from folks who reviewed our system and liked how everything worked but weren't able to participate because we were limited in how many folks could participate. We want to make sure that human-centered design is at the core of what we do; that's really important to us.
What role do you think societal stigma plays in recovery and recurring episodes of drug use?
It is definitely a big issue to contend with. It's not as bad as it used to be, which is great. It used to be a lot worse, but now a lot of people do recognize that it is a disease and the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) lists it as such. However, there's still a lot of work to do and there's still a lot of misinformation. One thing that we're doing at Behaivior is trying to change words that can create more stigma. I actually just did a training with our whole team about substitute words. One example is, instead of using the word abuse, use the word misuse. There are also these associations with clean or dirty. Using terms like “actively using” or “not actively using” so that harsh words like “dirty”, which are not appropriate, are not associated with people who are struggling with a medical condition. That's kind of a way of doing our part [to reduce harmful stigma].
When I did the TED Talk, there was a person I talked to who was working on his talk, and he was in the mental health field. We had a great conversation. He was there when I did a run-through and he was really happy that we were using destigmatizing terms because there isn't a lot of that.
You will hear people in the field working to help others while still using stigmatizing terms, so there's still stigma there and there's still work to do. I always request that folks, if they have an opportunity and they hear someone saying something [negative] about someone struggling with addiction, if it's an actual flaw in the person, go at it. But if it's something related to them struggling with addiction, then I encourage folks to have empathy and understand that [the person struggling] does not want to be in that place. They don't want to be struggling with that, so just try to put yourself in their shoes.
"I actually just did a training with our whole team about substitute words. One example is, instead of using the word abuse, use the word misuse. There are also these associations with clean or dirty. Using terms like “actively using” or “not actively using” so that harsh words like “dirty”, which are not appropriate, are not associated with people who are struggling with a medical condition."
How has your location in Pittsburgh impacted your work? What are some pros and cons of working in Pittsburgh??
Being in Pittsburgh has impacted us in that there's a lot of interest in medical related things, in health and in technology because of our fairly strong health ecosystem in the city, and also a fairly strong technology ecosystem. So I think that we've benefited because of those things.
Some pros to being here are- besides that the city itself is affordable, has many cultural things, parks, and is a good place to live- that there are a lot of really talented people here that have come out of the universities or who are here because of the universities. Also, because it's a medium-sized city, you can access people in different roles that are helpful to network with that you may not otherwise be able to.
If I wanted to talk to a director of some nonprofit, if it was in New York City for example, they would probably be too busy for me. But in Pittsburgh, I can probably call them and say, ‘Hey, I'm interested in what you do. Can I set up a meeting?’ Not to say that they're not busy, but it's just easier to reach people and talk with people. It has been helpful to engage with the community.
A con, I would say for sure, is funding; especially for startups. While there is funding available for earlier stage and free revenue startups, there's a lot less of it and funding amounts that are provided are much smaller. So if there's a competition in one of the larger cities, for example, they might say, ‘Here's $400,000,’ and then you can hire employees with that. If I wanted to talk to a director of some nonprofit, if it was in New York City for example, they would probably be too busy for me. But in Pittsburgh, I can probably call them and say, ‘Hey, I'm interested in what you do. Can I set up a meeting?’ Not to say that they're not busy, but it's just easier to reach people and talk with people. It has been helpful to engage with the community.
What neighborhood is your company located in?
We're located in East Liberty and we really like that area. What's nice is that there are a lot of community-based businesses in the area and also a lot of startups, which is interesting. If you walk around, there's a lot of incubators and accelerators- and there's also a lot of great food. It's also very walkable, which is nice, and it is centrally located.
You also mentioned working and collaborating with some universities. How do you think that your location in Pittsburgh has been beneficial for building those types of connections?
That's another element of Pittsburgh that is really helpful. We have a lot of great universities, and so many of them. It's not like we have one or two, we have many great universities that have great programs. That's definitely super helpful for a startup, especially because we're working in health technology, since it opens up a lot of places for getting interns and working with different labs who are doing innovative work.
In terms of the clinical element of it, it's nice that we have a lot of providers in the area as well. We're working on getting our first couple of pilots together, so it's nice that we could have some options in the area as well for that.
"...we have many great universities that have great programs. That's definitely super helpful for a startup, especially because we're working in health technology, since it opens up a lot of places for getting interns and working with different labs who are doing innovative work."
Do you feel a sense of community between your company and other A.I. and tech firms and startups in Pittsburgh ?
Yeah, absolutely. When talking with people like Doug [CEO of Lumis Corp.], it's awesome, I love what he does. I love having people like him around and other founders. It's so helpful. Some of the best support and guidance that you can get is from the people who are also working on startups in your area. You can get great advice from people who are working in a hospital system or in a nonprofit that's doing similar work or outreach. Even if it's just with another technology startup, like my friend Emily who recently left Pittsburgh. She's at her company called Shine Registry. It's a different area, but it's technology, so we are able to kind of connect and give advice. And I'm super grateful for all these folks, and it is nice that in Pittsburgh we have a closer community of startups.
Do you feel that it is important to have a community between local startups?
Yeah, absolutely, it's so crucial to be connected with other startups and other founders, and that's something that has been a challenge [during Covid-19]. I'm still trying to figure out the best way to do that. There have been some zoom video chats and such, which are fun. It's not quite the same as when an organization would have an event and then you go see a few other founders or people at startups, which follows a more natural flow of connecting. But, that's something we're all struggling with right now, so I know we're certainly not the only ones.
What are some things that you would like to do in order to increase the sense of community among startups and other businesses in Pittsburgh?
That's a really great question. I have pondered that because it's something that I've struggled with- feeling a lack of community support during this time. I would say that trying to be proactive in connecting with other founders is important, even if it's just check-ins. I've been so grateful for email and text check-ins from other folks and connecting by phone. It's been really nice. If there were more events for folks to connect, I think that would be really helpful.
Sometimes [online events] are not open-ended enough. You might join an event where there is a speaker the whole time, and you might see a participant be like, ‘Oh, I wanted to check-in with them, but there's no way to do it.’ So even if you see people you know and you want to connect with them or reconnect with them, it's challenging.
We have all these ways to stay connected, but for people that are not as outgoing, it's definitely more of a challenge. I think a lot of founders can tend to isolate themselves a little bit because you sort of feel lonely in what you're doing. So it's also really nice to have employees or other team members. We have some new interns that have been really great and help bring some more liveliness [to the company].
Many thanks to Ellie Gordon of Behaivior for allowing us to interview her, and for teaching us more about her startup experience here in Pittsburgh. Be sure to visit Behavior’s website and follow them on Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter in order to be up to date on their current work and developments!