Like most folks, Hailey Garfinkel (BSFCS ’21, MSW ’23) found herself at home with a lot of time on her hands during the 2020 lockdown. But unlike most people, she also found her calling.
Garfinkel — a therapist, advocate for neurodivergent individuals and an individual on the autism spectrum, noticed how many people from her community of friends suffered from isolation and deterioration during lockdown. To help, she started two-hour Zoom hangouts every other day for people to connect.
Over the past three years, these informal gatherings have grown to a community of more than 300 people who meet regularly on Hailey’s Healthy Hangout, a online platform for neurodivergent individuals to meet, take classes and discuss their lives.
“We created a virtual community with empowering activities and professional coaching to help people live healthier, grow personally and make real connections,” Garfinkel said. “And people love it.”
The growth of Hailey’s Health Hangout and Garfinkel’s dedication to her mission helped win over judges at the University of Georgia Entrepreneurship Program’s Health and Wellness Pitch Competition on Nov. 8 at Studio 225. Garfinkel and Hailey’s Health Hangout’s executive director Tyler Lewis took home the $10,000 grand prize.
“There’s no question that the opportunity you have here is enormous. As you said, 61 million people in the United States are neurodivergent,” said judge Richard Stamper (BBA ’84), founder of barcode technology company FineLine Technologies and managing partner of investment group Hill Partners. “And the fact you’ve already proven you can develop a community doing this is very impressive.”
The online nature of the services and community provided by Hailey’s Healthy Hangout has been a game-changer for people who may live in rural areas, far from many in-person services or for people with limited ability to travel independently.
Garfinkel and Lewis plan to use the prize to develop an app-based version of Hailey’s Healthy Hangout. In the future, they plan to offer more personalized coaching services and activities for community members.
In addition to Hailey’s Healthy Hangout, judges recognized Afia’s Leaf, an herbal supplement company founded by UGA ecology student Amaryah Lockett, with second place and $5,000. Third place went to Food with Flow, an idea for an app that helps track menstrual cycles and provides targeted nutrition and exercise recommendations to help support women through each stage of the month. Founder, UGA dietetics student Callie Dellinger, took home a $2,500 investment.
In addition to Stamper, judges for the inaugural Health and Wellness Pitch Competition included Jay Herzog (BA ’86), Richard Lewis (ABJ ’73), Susan DeRose, Joel Katz (BBA ’85), Kathy Katz, Rob Shier (MBA ’04) and David Preston (BBA ’99, MBA ’13).