Quinn Fitzgerald '11 says she has always been interested in the concepts of de-escalation and conflict resolution. She was the first Holy Cross student to create a major in peace and conflict studies and in 2020 — despite the pandemic — she successfully co-founded a wearable technology company aimed at addressing the issues of violence, to help people identify and de-escalate potentially dangerous situations.
Fitzgerald and Sara Dickhaus de Zarraga, both survivors of sexual assault, developed Flare, a Bluetooth-enabled SOS device discreetly hidden in jewelry such as bracelets and wristbands, while working on their MBAs at Harvard Business School. Their invention, which won the school's New Venture Competition in 2017, connects to a free app that enables users, with the press of a button, to send friends and family their GPS location, alert first responders or call their own mobile phone with an excuse to leave.
"Everybody says they care about safety and yet we don't have enough tools in our tool belts to handle iffy situations," Fitzgerald says. "For instance, if you get a red flag in a situation, such as someone putting their hand on the small of your back, how do you remove yourself? Most people don't want to make things worse or, in a business setting, jeopardize their ability to succeed."
Flare doesn't have a target demographic, as most populations experience dangerous situations, Fitzgerald says. The company's recent Safety in Numbers campaign details sobering statistics, including that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience sexual violence, and that in 2020, hate crimes in America reached their highest levels in more than a decade.
She says the personal safety industry, which includes fall-risk buttons for the elderly, has marketed based on fear and vulnerability, instead of confidence and control: "We wanted to create a product that lets users reclaim their agency and bring their full self to everything and not hold back."
Entrepreneurship and empathy
Fitzgerald says Harvard Business School and the Obama administration, where she served as assistant director for the White House Business Council, taught her about entrepreneurship and "how to combine technology and business to solve real-world challenges." However, it was Holy Cross where she learned to advocate for others. "I felt the motto of 'men and women for and with others' viscerally," she says. "Conflict resolution and safety are very connected to that as well."
Since its debut nearly two years ago, Flare has received praise from the business press, including being named to Time Magazine's "Best Inventions of 2020" and being spotlighted by Fast Company, Forbes, InStyle and Fortune. The company sold out of its inventory multiple times and was cited by digital intelligence firm SimilarWeb as the fastest growing direct-to-consumer brand with a 313.7% increase in website traffic quarter-over-quarter in the second quarter of 2021.
Despite the acclaim, Fitzgerald notes Flare's true mission is "to put ourselves out of business": creating a world where the product is no longer needed.
Written by Sandra Gittlen for the Winter 2022 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.
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