Any person who has lived very long has experienced one or more of the proverbial “kicks in the teeth” that could negatively impact a life forever. How the individual responds is a testament to their make-up and their resilience but, better yet, what if there was a way to mitigate these negative experiences overall?
That’s the basis of BeforeWeBegin, a new Chattanooga-based start-up co-founded by two women who have experienced distinctly different but equally impactful encounters and chosen to turn how they recovered into a tool to help others.
Kenzie Butera, a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, has joined with Lilly Mittenthal, a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) currently living in Chicago, to launch the new venture that is based on three years of research that Butera undertook as an undergraduate. She earned her B.A. in Women’s Studies and Entrepreneurship last year.
“It’s about health, wellness and sex education,” Butera, the start-up’s Chief Executive Officer and only full-time employee, explained in a recent interview. “I was really interested in what’s been done well and not so well in those areas. The research was part of my healing process.”
Today, the fledgling company is focused on helping both educators and parents provide meaningful information to the initial target audience – middle school-aged students. Later versions will target high school students – “it will need to look vastly different for them,” Butera says – and possibly elementary schools.
BeforeWeBegin has two minimum viable products – one focused on helping teachers access validated information to help prepare their lesson plans and the other repackages this content into a tool which enables parents to engage in more informed conversations with their children about health, wellness and sex education.
“We create content and distribute it digitally,” Butera says. Parents can access a database of resources to help navigate difficult conversations and answer tough questions using BeforeWeBegin’s robust library of resources. In the case of teachers, they can use the start-up’s proprietary lesson planning tool to create health, wellness and sex education lesson plans filled with engaging, digital content that matches their students’ individual learning styles in under five minutes.
Butera emphasizes that curriculum regulations vary by state, and BeforeWeBegin factors those regs into the tool for teachers.
The start-up has just executed its first partnership with the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), a non-profit organization working in the areas of support, awareness, advocacy, referral, education, and prevention.
“We’ll be providing content related to body image and eating disorders,” Butera explains. BeforeWeBegin also has lined-up two pilot programs at Chattanooga schools – Girls Preparatory and Baylor School.
The company’s path forward involves executing sponsorships with for profit companies and also partnering with non-profits on grant opportunities. BeforeWeBegin is also looking for investments from early angels.
“We see combining all three verticals (health, wellness and sex education) into one product,” Butera adds.
So, you are no doubt asking, “What bad experiences propelled these two women to launch the company?” Butera explains that her co-founder was diagnosed with severe depression at an early age, so mental health and well-being are particularly important to Mittenthal.
“I was raped twice when I was 17 years old,” the very forthright Butera explains, noting that she was not always as open, but that transparency has been part of her healing process. “As such, I struggled processing all of that and how it impacted my ability to have healthy relationships.”
She volunteered at the Rape Crisis Center in Chattanooga and eventually was one of those who took calls on the organization’s Crisis Hotline. “I saw a need for being more proactive, intervening before a bad situation happened rather than just putting a band aid on after the fact.”
As anecdotal evidence of the need for one of the tools, Butera described a recent ride from a New York City airport to a weeklong session at the Hyper Accelerator offered by an organization named StartEd. The Uber driver, who was a single parent, told Butera that she struggled with having sex education conversations with her daughter and son, yet she knew she must.
“She was such an incredible mother who wanted to provide the right education for her children,” Butera said. Experiences like that reinforce the importance of the journey that Butera and Mittenthal have started.
BeforeWeBegin invites parents to sign up for notification of its product release at this link.