How the Startup OK2StandUp Helped Its Founder Become More Human

As the founder of OK2StandUp, Dr. Eunice Yang has made it her mission to keep seniors safe. 

Standing at 5’4”, Dr. Eunice Yang represents the living embodiment of ‘big things come in small packages.’ She’s a mechanical engineer, professor, mother, Christian, immigrant, and founder. As the CEO of her startup, OK2StandUp, elder safety has become her rallying cry and provided her with a “God-given mission.”

Dr. Yang’s journey to the startup world began in 1972, when her father decided to move his family from South Korea to Hawaii. With a mere $3,000 to their name, Dr. Yang and her family decided to take a gamble on the land of opportunity.

But at times, it seemed like her own culture stood in the way of her version of the American Dream. When Dr. Yang was growing up, Asian culture was a male-centric one. It was taboo for girls to aspire to become engineers, doctors, or join the military. Her family was no exception to this thinking.

“My background is traditional,” she says. “I got a bachelor’s degree, worked, and then my parents said they were going to start a manufacturing business. So I said, I’ll join in. Their response was, ‘no, you can’t. You’re a girl.’”

But, as Dr. Yang likes to put it, entrepreneurship represents her family’s “way of life” and she was determined to follow in her parents footprints. 

“I kept bugging them, so they finally got me into the family business,” she continues. “It was a very good experience because it gave me a taste of what entrepreneurship is.”

While Dr. Yang decided to continue pursuing her education, she never forgot her business aspirations. She attended Penn State and went on to earn her doctorate in mechanical engineering. Then she began working as a turbomachinery engineer for Boeing before accepting a tenured associate professor position at the University of Pittsburgh.

Then, in 2017, one request changed everything. 

While working as a professor, a colleague approached Dr. Yang and asked if she’d be willing to invent something to prevent falls among older adults. This was the first time she became aware that it was even a problem.

“Falls are the number one cause of accidental deaths among seniors in the United States,” She explains. “So every 11 seconds, a senior is falling and heading to the emergency room.”

This revelation, along with the innovative technology she designed, led to the formation of OK2StandUP. In 2018, the startup was launched, and she unveiled her artificial intelligence-powered “fall mitigation solution.” It works by equipping a patient with wearable technology that analyzes and predicts the wearer’s movement. It can identify risky motions and alert caregivers to potential danger.

Dr. Yang and her team received first-hand experience with their prospective customers.

“We lived in nursing homes for 5-6 weeks,” she says. “When someone falls, they run. I got to see the frustration in the care staff, the nurses, the directors, and the aides.”

These caregivers had a level of emotional depth that wasn’t very common in more academic settings. “When a fall happens, those individuals behave as if it’s their own grandmother.”

As the days ticked by, the staff slowed their pace, quickly becoming more confident in the reliability of OK2StandUp’s system. 

“I think it’s at that moment that I knew the product was impacting the lives of caregivers and the lives of people,” she says. “This journey for the startup has made me more human. Because as an engineer, we’re in our own heads a lot.”

But the founder life isn’t always so rewarding, especially when it comes to fundraising. Dr. Yang understands the rejection nearly every founder will face. But, as she explains, it doesn’t mean much to the big picture.

“I always think that I have regular milk and [an investor] is lactose intolerant,” she explains. “I’m never gonna be able to sell regular milk to people who are lactose intolerant. That’s just the way it is. It has nothing to do with the quality of my milk.”

But overall, she’s found the secret to her success comes down to one word: experiment.

“Everything’s an experiment. Just do the experiment,” Dr. Yang says. “Some experiments work and some don’t, but make sure you do the experiments fast. That goes towards anything. It applies to everything I do now.” 

Reflecting on what the future holds, Dr. Yang sees success a little differently than your average founder. Leaving the cold environment of mechanical engineering to work directly with people has changed her entire thought process. No matter what comes, she will hold onto the fact that she has made a difference.

“I couldn’t help but say, my product works, the technology works, I can’t quit. I’ve got to help these people,” she says. “I always said, if I ever fold, I will make [my data] available. That’s my contribution [to the world]. In the end, I think I will say I won because I contributed.”

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