At wearable tech company HabitAware, Aneela Idnani Kumar has two job titles. The first, marketing/design lead, is easy enough to understand. But her other position, “chief trichster,” is a less conventional designation. “Trichster” is a colloquial term for a person who compulsively pulls out hair as part of a disorder known as trichotillomania. In fact, Kumar’s disorder formed the basis of the health-related company, whose first product, Keen, is a bracelet that helps users address compulsive behaviors.
Kumar explains that she’s dealt with trichotillomania for more than 20 years. Hair pulling can leave obvious evidence—over time, some trichsters develop very thin hair, or even bald spots. Nonetheless, she says, “I spent most of that time hiding this issue because I thought I was damaged.” One day, in 2015, Kumar’s husband noticed that she no longer had eyebrows. That was when the mobile app designer began talking publicly about her problem, and searching for solutions.
Arlan Hamilton is founder and managing partner of Los Angeles-based Backstage Capital, which has invested more than $5 million in 100 startups whose high-potential founders are people of color, women or LGBTQ. Two of those startups are in Minnesota, including Minneapolis-based HabitAware, the winner of the $50,000 grand prize in the 2018 MN Cup entrepreneurial competition, and the developer of a smart bracelet to make users aware of hair-pulling and other unwanted repetitive behavior.
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