Christel Seeberger dreams of one day overseeing a digital forum that will tell people about sensory friendly places and products.
She’s working toward that goal, and on Thursday night her Saint John-based company Sensory Friendly Solutions will be one of the finalists in New Brunswick Innovation Foundation’s Breakthru competition.
Having worked for a quarter-century as an occupational therapist, Seeberger has long thought about the need for a publicly accessible list of products and places that don’t irritate people who are extremely sensitive to their surroundings. With Sensory Friendly Solutions, she is building it herself, and hoping to make some money in the process.
“Sensory Friendly Solutions was borne of trying to help the clientele that I’ve had over 25 years in a new way, maybe a disruptive way,” Seeberger said in an interview on Monday. “For some people, the world is too busy, too noisy, too bright. … For them, just going out and living their daily lives was becoming more and more difficult, so I wanted to solve that problem in a different way.”
The problem that Seeberger is addressing is most often associated with people on the autism spectrum. Many people with autism have acute sensitivity to such things as bright lights, strobe lights, noises of a certain frequency or some scents. Seeberger says the need for sensory friendly places and products extends to other groups as well, such as people with anxiety, concussions, or post-traumatic stress disorder, to name a few.
There is a global movement to highlight places where these people can go and feel comfortable. For example, Odeon Theatres in London, U.K. has begun “sensory friendly nights”, where movies are shown that won’t antagonize people with these sensitivities. Closer to home, Seeberger says that Sobey’s has begun sensory friendly shopping periods.
In addition to these places, there are also sensory friendly products like noise-reduction headphones that help people with sensory issues cope with the modern world.
What Seeberger is doing is building a two-sided market in which groups offering sensory friendly places and products can display them, and those looking for such things can search and discuss them. The company will make its money by charging companies to post their product or retail outlet on the website. The goal is to have a comprehensive showcase for things that can help people who are searching for all things in the sensory friendly space.
Seeberger began working on the project last autumn, and won $25,000 for it in an Economic Development Greater Saint John competition. Working with the New Brunswick Community College, she built a basic app and began testing it. Now she is working in ConnexionWorks in Saint John and is building up the database in the app.
Seeberger is also building a potential client base and has received 20 letters of intent from companies that would like to appear on the site. The date of the full launch will depend on whether the company can raise investment, and Seeberger said it could happen in a few months if it wins money in the Breakthru competition.
“We’re kind of pre-MVP,” said the occupational therapist, displaying her facility with startup-talk. “We got our prototype and we’re refining that. One of the challenges we face is that no one has ever brought all this data together. We have to do the work to bring this together and bring the community together as well. “