Sarah Stanton, left, and Rachel Stanton represented Switch Stream, the grand prize winner at this year’s Be Your Own Boss Bowl®. The company makes wearable devices that help persons with physical impairments control their electronics.
Sarah and Rachel Stanton, co-founders of Switch Stream and grand prize winners of the 2020 Be Your Own Boss Bowl® (BYOBB®), kicked off this year’s competition on Jan. 20 at IEI’s annual “How I Won the Be Your Own Boss Bowl®” event. Switch Stream is an assistive technology startup that produces a smart hub for people with disabilities to operate electronic devices more easily.
“There are not enough solutions out there for people with disabilities to use their computer, their cell phone or TV,” Sarah Stanton explained. “Switch Stream is all about leveling the playing field and allowing these individuals available, affordable access.”
Switch Stream is currently working with occupational therapists to launch its first pilot at an assisted living facility and recently introduced a version of the hub for children. At last week’s event, the Stantons shared with the group how their inspiration stems from their mother, a special education teacher. The sisters grew up around classrooms and saw the lack of quality resources for special education firsthand. Switch Stream, however, was not their first entrepreneurial endeavor.
In 2013, the pair entered the BYOBB® with Fruitstrology—an apparel company dedicated to spreading awareness about local food deserts. Not expecting to be accepted to the competition, they scrambled to pull together a pitch, and with the help of IEI mentors, Fruitstrology won third place. Sarah Stanton shared that they learned a lot about the process: “If at first, you don’t succeed,” she said, “make sure you learn a lot, and you can bounce back.”
The momentum they gained from the 2013 BYOBB® landed them a slot on a morning show and kept rolling for a few years, with write-ups in Temple and Fox School of Business publications as well as a feature in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Despite Fruitstrology’s success, the Stantons redirected their sights after reconnecting with friend and current Switch Stream Chief Technology Officer Tyler Berezowsky, who at the time made products for children with cerebral palsy.
“The biggest difference between the way we entered the BYOBB® in 2013 and 2020 is Tyler. He’s part of the team and really helped us build this company up.” Though they initially met as teenagers, Berezowsky said he unexpectedly saw Sarah Stanton on the train on the way to Temple.
“A kismet connection,” as professor and event host Greg Fegley noted.
“Happenstance,” Berezowsky says.
In 2019, the Stantons entered Switch Stream into The Lori Hermelin Bush Seed Fund competition and were awarded funding. The funding jump-started the beginning of the company, explains Sarah Stanton.
“Temple is a great resource also,” said Berezowsky. The Switch Stream team noted that they took advantage of a number of resources Temple offers for entrepreneurs—faculty mentoring from the engineering department, expert strategists at the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Institute, the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), and the Lori Hermelin Bush and Be Your Own Boss Bowl® competitions.
“We’ve been involved with Temple when we were students and continued after we graduated.”
Greg Fegley, 1810 Accelerator Director and director of the BYOBB®, concurred. “That’s why we’re here: to serve all Temple entrepreneurs—students and alumni.”
Reflecting on how life may be different if they had not won the BYOBB®, Sarah Stanton explained, “the BYOBB® has given our company the visibility and the credibility to be able to say that we’re a funded company. Saying that we’ve been funded gives us so many more opportunities and gets the foot in the door, so we are glad that we’ve entered.”
Sarah Stanton also mentioned the many benefits to entering the competition even if you don’t win, most notably mentor and reviewer feedback.
“[Our mentors were] people that had relevant experience,” Rachel Stanton added. “You never know what kind of a connection you might make and continue to keep as you go.”
After the BYOBB®, Switch Stream was chosen for EdTech week at the University of Pennsylvania, which allowed them to gain connections in academia. They were also accepted to a mentorship program with Comcast’s Lift Labs, who helped design their pilot, and granted a meeting with Alan Brightman, founder of Apple’s Accessibility Team and Yahoo’s Accessibility Lab.
“It was a really cool experience to get to talk to someone like that, who built things from the ground up at a big company,” Sarah Stanton said.
When asked about advice for their younger selves, Rachel Stanton emphasized, “Don’t let [critical feedback] break you down. Keep working through and use it to make yourself better. It’s hard not to take it personally a lot of times, but use it and make yourself better in the future.”
Echoing her sister’s sentiments, Sarah Stanton affirmed, “[And] don’t be afraid to explain ‘why you.’ Explain why you are the right person for your company. ‘Why you?’ is very important.”