They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but that doesn’t always make it easier. For children whose parents travel for work, boyfriends and girlfriends at opposite ends of the map, or families of military service men and women deployed overseas, distance can seem overwhelming and put serious strain on everyone involved. Parihug in Cleveland, Ohio, helps alleviate the pain that comes with distance through high-tech plush toys that can send hugs between loved ones from thousands of miles away.
“Pari is equipped with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and fabric-based sensors that can gauge pressure to determine how hard it’s being squeezed. It can then transmit that data to its paired Pari anywhere in the world, and it will create a vibrating response that mimics the feeling of a genuine hug,” said Xyla Foxlin, co-founder and CEO of Parihug. “A parent on the road for work can send a hug to their child, and if they hug their Paris at the same time, they can actually feel the other’s heartbeat.”
Foxlin developed the idea for Parihug from her own experiences in a long-distance relationship. With her then-boyfriend over 1,000 miles away, she found it hard to cope with the limitations of traditional communication techniques and took it upon herself to build her own solution. Xyla used her passion for mechanical engineering and experience in robotics to build the first Pari prototype at a hackathon, and the concept was so well-received that Pari secured interest from investors before the event was over.
“I never started this with the intention of building a company. I went to a hackathon and used some hardware I had been playing around with and things going on in my life as inspiration for a project. It resonated with people for a few reasons, but mainly because it actually worked,” Foxlin joked. “The idea just took off from there and I can’t wait to see where we can take it. Haptics (sense of touch as way to interact with electronics) are exciting to work with. We’re really pioneers in this space.”
Foxlin continued to develop an initial prototype, eventually putting it on Kickstarter in April 2017 with the goal of raising $30,000 towards production costs. The campaign was fully-funded within one week, raising 178% of its goal and indicating even further that this product resonates with people. A student at Case Western Reserve University, Xyla’s product created such buzz in the entrepreneurial community that she had to take one semester off to focus on the growth of her “accidental business.” The company’s focus for the remainder of 2017 is to streamline their manufacturing and fulfill all orders to their crowdfunding backers.
Parihug has received support and mentorship from several Ohio resources, and is a staple in the Cleveland startup community. Foxlin received investment from JumpStart, a northeast Ohio regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier, after she and her high-tech teddy won the Sidewalk to Stage pitch competition. She credits Flashstarts, another regional partner, for accepting Parihug into its 2016 accelerator class and believing in her when others didn’t.
“Flashstarts has been so unbelievable in our development. That network of founders and mentors has been with us every step of the way. People often speculate that the Midwest might be risk-averse,” said Foxlin. “Well, I was a 19-year-old female founder who was still in school and had created a physical product. That’s about as risky a recipe as it gets. Flashstarts didn’t flinch. We’ve been able to get the support we needed in Ohio, and then some.”