Alumni give purpose to America’s aging population
Who knew back in 2015 when Occupational Therapy Assistant students Ali Izzo and Holly Masters met as Penn State freshman that their budding friendship would blossom into a growing entrepreneurial enterprise that today is changing the lives of older Americans?
Masters and Izzo’s desire to help aging Americans incubated over a couple years as both women were working toward their degrees in Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State Shenango. While doing their Occupational Therapy Assistant clinical work at assisted living facilities and nursing homes, they saw first-hand the loneliness and sadness the elderly can experience, and they wanted to help. When they worked on a class project for the Development and Administration of Human Service Programs, which required them to create a non-profit and build out the business plan and its related community impact, their intentions began to take form. Over time, the duo decided to develop Purpose: The Therapeutic Subscription Box – or Purpose Therapy Box as a real business.
Purpose Therapy Box is an easy-to-use online subscription service that inspires positivity and enhances the quality of life of older adults through personalized products that encourage independence, improve well-being, and promote overall health.
“The company’s name has two meanings,” said Masters. “Not only do the products in the subscription boxes fulfill a functional purpose, including a variety of personal products, we are letting older folks know they still have purpose… they matter, and someone cares.”
Their class professor who assigned that first project, Claudia Brown, helped spread the news about the Purpose Therapy Box concept across the Invent Penn State network and encouraged Masters and Izzo to share their idea with others. When VenturePointe, Shenango’s (Hermitage) campus innovation hub ribbon cutting took place at the eCenter@LindenPointe in August 2017, Masters and Izzo were there. They saw the opportunity and imagined how they could also tap the resources of the innovation hub network to get their company off the ground. They soon began working with innovation hub director Georgia Macris and Jo Anne Carrick, Penn State Shenango Campus Director, as advisors at VenturePointe. Through these relationships, they also utilized the Penn State Law Clinic which helped them with company formation documents, an operating agreement and associated trademarks. They received support from many others across the Invent Penn State network, including Roxanne Atterholt, assistant teaching professor, program coordinator, and adviser for Human Development and Family Studies, who helped to advise the entrepreneurs.
Purpose Therapy Box launched in 2018.
In spring 2019, Masters and Izzo won $15,000 for Purpose Therapy Box in the annual Inc.U Competition. The company was also the recipient of a $15,000 FedEx Small Business Grant in 2019 – taking the Bronze prize out of 13,000 applications, which helped to further fund their startup.
Over the past year or so, they have continued to build out the company and pursue growth. Purpose Therapy Box offers themed care packages for family members to send to loved ones, as well as a new program that allows people to “sponsor a senior,” which enables older residents in nursing homes to receive a box.
With growth comes more opportunity.
In 2020, they aim to expand the concept into the professional marketplace by providing an occupational therapy-based box for Occupational Therapy Association practitioners and students to help them address burn out and productivity demands within the OTA field and the health care field in general.
“Amy Lamb, the president of American Occupation Therapy Association (AOTA), reached out to us last year because she saw our work and wanted to feature Purpose Therapy Box in her presidential address at the AOTA National Conference in New Orleans in 2019,” said Izzo.
That led to the company’s development of a product aimed at occupational therapy practitioners and students. Dubbed the “OT Box,” the product has been well-received by the OT community and social media followers so far in 2020.
Masters and Izzo are already giving back. They have been on the University Park campus speaking to nursing students and attended the 2019 Venture and IP Conference, where they volunteered to shadow and met with a variety of venture capitalists. In 2020 the pair will partner with adults with disabilities to help them fulfill orders and continue making a real difference in the lives of others.