Meet Sharyn Potter

Innovators |

Sharyn Potter headshot Innovator of the Week

Sharyn J. Potter, PhD, MPH
Executive Director of Research, Prevention Innovations Research Center at the University of New Hampshire


Please provide your 30-second pitch about your social innovation.

uSafeNH is a new and free smartphone application (app) created to uSafeNH logoprevent sexual assault on New Hampshire campuses and provide victims and their allies with access to immediate assistance, thus placing resources in the hands of people who need it most. In August 2017 the uSafeUS app will be launched on campuses in the East Coast. The idea for uSafeNH was born during a conversation I had with my colleague, Kathy Kimball, a retired NH state trooper and now head of the NH Attorney General’s Office Sexual Assault Resource Team (SART) Program. Kimball remarked that college students are unaware of the significant resources available throughout New Hampshire to assist victims of sexual assault and suggested we find a way to put these resources in the hands of a distressed 20 year-old who has just been sexually assaulted.

Who or what was your best resource for supporting the development of your social innovation?

uSafeNH and uSafeUS are examples of the innovative solutions that emerge when researchers and practitioners collaborate to address a community need.

Two distinct groups were instrumental in the development and launch of uSafeNH/uSafeUS. First, the social innovation development and prototype came from regular meetings of a team comprised of university researchers and practitioners from the NH Violence Against Women Campus Consortium, the NH Sexual Assault Resource Team Project at the Attorney General’s Office, the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, and the Applied Engineering and Sciences Department at UNH Manchester with the participation of Professors Mihaela Sabin and Karen Jin. The team members facilitated focus groups with practitioners, university administrators and students around NH to gather ideas and feedback during the development and launch process.

uSafe at EFNH AMP Awards
uSafe at 2016 EFNH AMP Awards

Second, during the first year of development the Prevention Innovations Research Center funded two student software developers and a social work graduate student to develop the prototype, and assist with the facilitation of focus groups around the state. On May 12, 2016 uSafeNH won the Entrepreneur’s Fund of NH (EFNH) Amp Award after my co-director, Jane Stapleton, made the winning project pitch. The EFNH Amp Award enabled us to develop the app on the iOS platform and finish the Android application, develop and purchase the marketing materials and launch the app on 24 NH campuses and refine and revise the app. As an EFNH Amp finalist we received incredible support from three coaches, Catherine Blake, Ryan Toy and Wayne Kurtzman from the NH business world who provided us priceless insights and direction.

Finally, on December 1, 2016 our proposal to launch uSafeUS won third prize at the UNH Social Venture Innovation Challenge (SVIC). UNH Professor George Roth was a valuable coach and helped us develop a 12-month budget projection. In addition to the third prize money, an anonymous donor matched the third prize money doubling our award money to begin our efforts. These funds are setting us up to market uSafeUS to campuses on the East Coast.

What was your biggest obstacle and how did you overcome it?

Securing the resources that we need to make the uSafe app available to students across the country continues to be our biggest obstacle. uSafeNH was incubated on NH campuses, so we are committed to making it free for all NH schools. Outside of NH, each university administration will pay a usage fee that entitles the entire campus community—students, families, staff, faculty and alumni—to then download the app free of charge. All of the money that we have won for the development and launch of uSafeNH and uSafeUS has been used to hire student employees and purchase marketing materials. All professional time (e.g., professors, practitioners) has been donated. We continue to apply for funds to support our start-up effort. Our plan is for uSafeUS to be self-sustaining by the end of the 2018. We have benefited greatly from the graciously shared wisdom of NH marketing, innovator and business leaders including Charlene Ignites, Jeffrey Rogers and Mark Kaplan.

What’s the best advice you have received?

In my capacity as the Executive Director of Research of the Prevention Innovations Research Center (PIRC) at UNH that I co-founded and co-direct with Jane Stapleton I have received valuable insight from UNH’s Senior Vice-Provost for Research Jan Nisbet and Associate Vice Provost of Innovation and New Ventures, Marc Sedam regarding the value of our work and the need to charge for the research based projects we develop and distribute. Working in the field of sexual violence prevention and response, there is a tendency to want to give away everything to “fix the problem”. Both Sedam and Nisbet have facilitated our efforts to license and sell the prevention products developed by the Prevention Innovations researchers. This money has enabled us to build our staff and support pilot efforts, including the initial development of uSafeNH. The PIRC authors of the licensed products have made a commitment to return their royalty revenue to PIRC (rather than their pockets) enabling us to fund our pilot efforts.

What about the NH lifestyle appeals to you?

I always tell my colleagues around the country that NH is the most incredible state to pursue social innovation efforts. The small size of the state and the immense capacity of NH professionals’ willingness to think “outside the box” and accomplish so many great things with limited funds make NH an incredible incubator. I know if I start naming people I will leave people out. The current and former directors of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Lyn Schollett and Grace Mattern, NH Attorney General’s office professionals including Lynda Ruel, Kathy Kimball and Kathryn Kiefer, are just a few of the people who have made NH a leader in addressing sexual and relationship violence and stalking.

What does the future look like?

We are so excited about the future of uSafeUS. We have an incredible team of researchers, students and community professionals who are working in different ways to launch uSafeUS outside of NH. We are continuing to conduct focus groups and interviews with students at institutions who have adopted uSafeNH to improve the user interface and experience. We are developing new ways to increase adaption of the app among students, campus staff and student families and alumni including the launch of the uSafeNH Campus Ambassador Program. We are writing grants to secure funding and evaluate the app. Finally, we are hosting our first Idea-a-thon on Monday, February 6th from 5:00-10:00pm that is open to all NH College and University students to develop new ideas for features for uSafe NH. Prizes will be awarded to the teams with the most innovative code, design ideas and new features. Students can register at . Pizza will be provided by Papa Johns Pizza and there will be donated sodas and desserts. We plan to host another uSafeNH Idea-a-thon in the western part of NH this April.

Connect with uSafeNH on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and their blog.