Soterra: Promoting Women’s Safety

An interdisciplinary team of Lehigh students set out in 2017 to develop a way for women living in regions of the world with high rates of violence against them to quickly access emergency response services, without the need for a cellphone or the internet.

Its solution: Soterra, a small, cost-effective device that uses Bluetooth mesh networking technology and GPS to allow women to discreetly contact friends, family or the police when they feel threatened.

The team was one of five in the final round of the $1 million Anu and Naveen Jain Women’s Safety Prize competition, founded by entrepreneurs and philanthropists Anu and Naveen Jain. During a June 2018 awards ceremony at the United Nations, the team learned it had won $50,000 as part of the competition.

“Our immediate next step is to continue to develop our prototype and keep forming relationships,” said Emily Randolph ’19, an Integrated Business and Engineering (IBE) student studying industrial and systems engineering and finance. “The security market is very high-risk—any product failure can ruin your brand’s entire reputation. Continuing to understand this, build credibility, and see how our target demographic interacts with our product will be critical to getting Soterra to market.”

The 15-student team also includes Michael Wu ’20, an IBE student studying biomedical engineering and finance, and Morgan Shurr ’20, a supply chain management major.

As it prepared for the competition, the team worked extensively with groups from the College of Business and Economics on a marketing plan for the device.

Steven Savino, professor of practice in marketing and adviser to the Lehigh Marketing Club, said he found the Soterra team to have “incredible passion” for the project, and after learning about it, he thought the Marketing Club and his MBA students might be able to help with the endeavor.

To that end, Randolph and Soterra team leader Lena McDonnell ’18 presented the team’s pitch deck and asked members of the Marketing Club to identify the best first market of entry, as well as strategies for customer engagement. Two Marketing Club teams, competing in a separate live-case competition, developed potential marketing plans for how to position Soterra for sale to parents of incoming first-year students.

“Their feedback was incredibly helpful,” said Randolph, the Soterra team’s business manager. “The [Marketing Club] teams provided us with many clever ideas that were unique and cost-effective, which is critical at the stage of development Soterra is in. We were very impressed with the thought and depth both teams provided in their answers, [and] we are currently preparing to deploy many of these ideas.”

Randolph and McDonnell also presented to MBA students taking Savino’s “Inspiring Innovation” course.  The students brainstormed ideas and presented “viable” concepts for marketing the device to women in developing countries, and additionally, institutions and hotel staffs.

“There were many strategies mentioned we will be utilizing very soon, and some of the presented barriers to entry were not previously identified by us,” said Randolph. “We look forward to using this knowledge to move Soterra forward, and hope to continue our partnership with these groups.”

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