February 21, 2020

YULA Girls Win Grant for Safety Device

Seventeen-year-old Liana Seidenfeld feels like she’s living in a dangerous world.

The Yeshiva University of Los Angeles Girls School (YULA) student told the Journal in a phone interview, “As a woman, I constantly feel vulnerable. Whether I’m walking home alone, getting into a cab or doing any activity on my own, I lack the confidence and ability to feel safe wherever I go.”

That feeling, especially in the time of #MeToo, led Seidenfeld, along with two other YULA Girls students, Jennie Peled, 15, and Ilana Aslan, 17, to create a safety device called HERO. The device, which sits inside a customized 3D printed bracelet, enables the wearer to trigger a recording via a preprogrammed panic word and call for help in an emergency. 

The girls invented HERO, which is not an acronym but alludes to the device’s protective nature, earlier this year as part of a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) initiative at YULA. The program, founded by Sheri Schlesinger of the nonprofit organization Genesis, aims to give students an interdisciplinary education and provide them with business acumen they can use in the real world. 

“A Genesis educator helped mentor the girls and their idea development, then worked with the team through the design process,” Schlesinger said. 

As part of the program, Schlesinger took the students to the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January, where they came up with the idea for HERO. They attended Girls’ Lounge, where a group of professional women gathered to network at CES. There, the girls decided to focus on an issue that would help women with personal safety. 

Unlike other devices on the market, HERO can be concealed in stylish bracelets. “Once our company progresses further, though, we plan to expand to more lines for all demographics,” Schlesinger said.

In April, Peled, Seidenfeld and Aslan took their HERO prototype to UCLA’s Founders Bootcamp — a startup accelerator program that provides high school students with entrepreneurial training and helps them get their inventions off the ground. There, Founders Bootcamp pledged a $50,000 investment with a 5 percent equity in HERO. It also valued HERO at $1 million. 

The YULA Girls team was one of eight that won awards in a competition that saw 1,100 applicants from five continents.

As part of their prize, the students will participate in a Founders Bootcamp program this summer at a WeWork office and at the Anderson Graduate School of Business on the UCLA campus. There, they will continue to develop HERO and post updates about it on their website, wearhero.me, and learn about becoming successful entrepreneurs. 

“We’re going to work full force during the summer and be completely dedicated to HERO,” Seidenfeld said. “Next year, if we do reach the kind of success [and it requires] more [time] than we imagine right now, we’ll find a way around it. We’re still going to school, but maybe we’d have a larger curriculum in school to allow us to work on the project.”

Ethan Piliavin, director of educational technology and STEAM at YULA, said that STEAM education is the future, and that YULA is leading the way for day schools in Los Angeles. “It’s important to have this type of education and success and give our girls inspiration,” he said. “We want to prepare our students to be the best they can be.” 

YULA Girls Head of School Rabbi Joshua Spodek said HERO also encapsulates Jewish concepts. “It brings all these subjects together with a Jewish lens,” he said. “Our mission is to fuse the worlds of science, technology, culture and Judaism. [The students’] whole mission is to make the world a safer place. If that’s not Judaism, I don’t know what is.”

Seidenfeld said the girls hope to “expand the HERO lines to boys being bullied at school and older people. We can offer it to everyone in the future.” Peled added, “Even if HERO doesn’t become worldwide, if it can make even one woman feel safe, we’ve reached our goal.”