Co-founder Aneela Idnani suffered from trichotillomania for more than 20 years.

In its Startup Spotlight, Times of Entrepreneurship highlights a startup that emerged recently from a higher ed competition and is showing signs of success.

Startup: HabitAware

A discreet wearable uses detection and gentle vibration to help make people with repetitive behaviors, like hair pulling and skin picking, stop the habits.

Minneapolis, Minn.

University challenge won:

In October 2018, HabitAware won the Grand, High Tech & Minority Business prizes for the Minnesota Cup startup competition. These prizes totaled $100k in non-dilutive funding from the University of Minnesota’s Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the Carlson School of Management program. One of the largest competitions in the United States, the MNCup is in its 15th year and awards $50,000 prizes each year.

Elevator pitch?

20M Americans suffer from trance-like mental health conditions known as Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs). They include hair-pulling (trichotillomania), skin-picking (dermatillomania), and nail-biting. HabitAware Keen is a smart bracelet and mobile app system – Keen — designed to support the recovery process. Co-founder Aneela Idnani suffered from trichotillomania for more than 20 years. Combining real-time awareness with scientifically-proven in-app strategies allows users to pause, reflect, and respond with positivity to negative triggers.

Has it changed much since you started? 

The pitch evolved to ensure people understand our community, the gravity of the problem we solve, and to explain improvements to the product over time.

What the co-founder says:

As a first generation American, I grew up watching my two immigrant parents work together at their own business endeavors. My mom practiced dentistry and ran her own dental practice and my dad ran an import/export business. I grew up playing “office” and feeding my creativity through art and writing. In high school, I fell in love with accounting because balancing debits against credits calmed my general anxiety. However, three years into working at a top audit firm, I found myself craving a creative outlet. I left accounting to travel and then continued my studies in art direction, copywriting and creative strategy. During 6 years in top advertising agencies in NYC and Minneapolis I learned more about entrepreneurship than one could ever imagine.

My compulsive hair pulling (trichtotillomania) began as a soothing mechanism for moving to a new neighborhood and intensified in high school as my father fell sick with cancer and lost his battle four years later. As a teenager I did not have the tools or healthy strategies to cope with this pain. Hair pulling became the go-to and as I could find no other solution, covering it up became a go-to as well. 

I am honored and proud to encourage people around the world to take control of their body focused repetitive behaviors. I am lucky and grateful to have found purpose in my childhood pain.

Why should someone invest in you?

We seek investors who understand the gravity of the problems we solve and who can see the potential for our innovative technology to make a broader commercial and societal impact.

Evidence of success? 

The results of our Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Research Grant Proposal are forthcoming, and give HabitAware the encouragement needed to continue improving Keen for the BFRB community. 

Our evidence of success can be found in the change I have personally made since wearing Keen and more importantly,  in the responses we receive from people. More than 1,000 psychologists recommend HabitAware because, as one doctor shares, “without awareness, patients can’t implement the therapeutic strategies I teach.” And as “Mom M” shares “I’ve spent years getting frustrated with my son over his hair pulling, but he feels worse than me. It is indescribable…Instead of coming home from school and isolating himself because he’s ashamed, he returns wanting to talk about how many times his bracelet reminded him where his hands were. I’m hopeful he’ll be able to go to a sleepover or a pool party soon.”

If you would describe your startup’s superpower, what would it be?

HabitAware’s superpower is our attitude, which fuels our actions. We are not just a company, we are a community. Knowing how difficult the journey can be, we offer a free one-on-one peer training call to get Keen families set up for success with their Keen bracelet. Our weekly newsletter is packed with “Soul Fueling” community stories and actionable strategies, and we are active in the online community.

If you have a Startup Spotlight to suggest, please contact Shirly Piperno,

This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit and connect with and