Sidewalk To Stage Winner Spotlight: Xyla Foxlin and Parihug

Although virtual communication can lessen the strain of distance, it doesn’t replace the physical connection we miss when our loved ones are away. Taking inspiration from her own long distance relationship, Xyla Foxlin has spent the last year engineering a way to physically communicate using technology.

The Case Western Reserve University engineering student is the founder of Parihug, an electronically-connected set of teddy bears that allows loved ones to “hug” each other from a distance. Xyla pitched Parihug during the Sidewalk to Stage pitch competition at Startup Scaleup where she took home a $5,000 prize in the Technology Startup category.

She recently shared with us her Sidewalk to Stage experience, the challenges she faces as a student entrepreneur and what’s next for Parihug.

Xyla, tell us about your Sidewalk to Stage experience. What was the most valuable lesson learned?
I think my Sidewalk to Stage experience reinforced one of my life mottos: #ApplyAnyway. It’s a phrase thrown around frequently in a women in tech community I am in, and I think it is one of the most important things to keep in mind.

You’re not supposed to be accepted into everything for which you apply—but the more shots you take, the more hits you’ll have. By being willing to take that shot, Parihug went from one paper in a stack of sidewalk applications, to recipients of a giant check onstage at Startup Scaleup.

Have you faced any unique challenges while balancing entrepreneurship and full-time course work as a Case student?
Absolutely. My grades have definitely dropped, and I don’t have nearly as much free time as my colleagues. I’ve actually had to drop classes because of my crazy schedule and the need to travel so frequently. And while there have been many professors who have helped keep me afloat, I think it’s been hard for some others to understand when my priorities extend outside academia.

On the flip side, I’ve also been told by some potential funders and partners that they aren’t interested in working with me unless I drop out or until I finish school. So, you sometimes get competing messages and they can be difficult to balance.

Has your Case experience influenced your entrepreneurial journey? If so, in what ways?
Case is a very unique place to be an entrepreneur. There are a vast assortment of resources available for startups, but I wish more students knew about them and took full advantage. For the startup entrepreneurs who are taking advantage, we get more resources than most schools with dozens of startups.

What advice would you give to college students who want to become entrepreneurs?
Do it! College is the perfect time to start a company. There aren’t many other times in life where you have such a wonderful safety net–a dorm and scholarship to live, a support network of friends who don’t know or care about your startup (they only care about you) and the resources universities have in their entrepreneurship centers. What do you have to lose? A few points off your GPA is worth it, trust me.

We ask all the entrepreneurs we speak with to give us examples of failure or setbacks they experienced. Anything come to mind for you?
Absolutely. Entrepreneurship is built on failures and setbacks. I think the biggest one is when my cofounder left the company to focus on school and friends. Although it was an amicable split and she remains available to help me transfer account ownership, etc., losing a cofounder is like going through a hard breakup. A lot of things you would always do with another person you trusted (and loved) you now have to do on your own. There’s suddenly no one to catch you or the company when you fall, and it definitely takes some getting used to.

How do you plan to use your prize money? What’s next for Parihug?
With the prize money, we will develop our own custom PCB (circuit board) for mass manufacturing. We are hard at work developing the product to get to a point where we are comfortable launching a Kickstarter campaign that can perform on time.

Want to know how virtual hugs work? Visit the Parihug website to find out! While you’re there, subscribe to the mailing list to be notified when the bears become available for purchase.

Get to know our other Sidewalk to Stage winners— Michelle Felder, founder of and Ben Colas, founder of KinderKits.