Content warning: This article discusses sexual assault.
At the final round of Georgetown’s Bark Tank competition earlier this month, a team led by Emily Owen (GHD ’21) presented Bibti, an app that seeks to provide women with travel buddies to reduce the risk of sexual assault.
The app comes at a time where discussions of sexual assault on college campuses and across the country are becoming more and more prevalent. In 2018, nearly 81 percent of women in the United States reported that they had experienced some form of sexual harassment within their lifetime. New strategies are constantly being developed to reduce the number of cases and help women feel safer in their day-to-day lives. Bibti hopes to offer one possible solution.
Bibti, created by Owen, aims to fight against various types of harassment such as being followed or cat-called by creating a buddy system. Upon opening the app, women can access a live map that connects them to other female users within a certain radius, so they can walk together and have additional protection when in public spaces. There are three types of matching services available: Walk With Me, Wait With Me, and Door-to-Door Service, according to Bibti’s website.
The idea for this buddy system first came up at the Global Social Innovation Lab, a pitch competition in Jan. 2020, when Owen and five other women formed a team to develop a solution to reduce the percentage of people that experience sexual harassment. Owen’s interest in the issue stems from her experiences as a single woman living abroad and being in public at night. “I would look for other younger women who seemed to be traveling in the same direction, and we would get on buses together,” Owen said.
The team working on Bibti includes Max Zhang (SFS ’23) and Shirley Hu (MSB ’23), interns who joined the project after learning about Bibti from Owen when she was their TA. Both are passionate about improving the safety of women and were eager to contribute to the project.
“[It’s] the little things you do to try and keep safe when you are alone,” Hu said. “Like how girls carry keys between their knuckles, you keep your phone on, and don’t wear your hair in a ponytail because it’s easier to grab are a big part of my life.”
Bibti is a shortened form of the Arabic word “habibi,” meaning “my love.” It is a term of endearment used among female friends, according to Owen, who spent time living in the Middle East and wanted to use the word for the app to foster a sense of security.
On Nov. 4, Owen, Zhang, and Hu competed in the final round of Georgetown’s entrepreneurial pitch competition Bark Tank. The competition typically awards teams or individuals preparing to launch new, problem-solving business ventures an amount of money from the annual limit of $100,000, but this year, the prize pool rose to $150,000. The Bibti team earned $5,000 to further develop their app
Bark Tank was not the first business venture competition Owen had brought Bibti to. “In past competitions, it was really at the idea stage, and now we are moving into the focus group and testing stage,” Owen said. “It is a very different experience when you are hypothetically creating a business model, and when you are actually executing on it and having values-driven thinking on business decisions.”
For Hu, participating in Bark Tank was a valuable learning opportunity. “It was a very good experience in terms of practicing and thinking critically about Bibti in different ways, like the ways you have to adjust specifically for a business audience, how that might change our understanding of how the app works, or how we want to generate revenue, etc.,” Hu said.
What separates Bark Tank from other pitch competitions hosted by Georgetown is that it primarily supports businesses that are beyond the idea stage. Participants are passionate about their respective projects and want to continue dedicating time to seeing their ideas come to fruition. “It’s great because we do want to be executing on what we’re pitching,” Owen said.
In preparation for Bark Tank, the Bibti team recruited around 60 Georgetown students for their pilot program to show the app’s capacity to gain real-world traction. “It is a more convincing or compelling way to show the potential of your business beyond just getting statistics, numbers, and anecdotes to back it up,” Hu said.
Looking into the future, Bibti hopes to engage with their user list of people who have expressed interest in the app. Two angel investors, individuals who invest in startups in the early stages of development, have already been secured. Owen will continue pitching Bibti to investors outside of Georgetown.
The beta version will initially be available to only Georgetown students as the Bibti team seeks user feedback to troubleshoot any issues that may arise. The team will continue to accept interested students to add to their user list for beta-testing, which students can join by checking out Bibti’s socials or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, until the end of the fall semester.
“Ideally, we want to have [the beta version] ready for a spring semester launch by the end of January 2022,” Owen said.
Max Zhang is a member of the Voice as the Executive Editor for Resources, Diversity, and Inclusion and a design assistant.