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Get to know four UNC startups for Sept. 9, 2014

Freedom Code

In the summer of 2011, UNC junior Cole Johnson went to Kolkata, India, with his church and saw up close the issues women face there, specifically sex trafficking. After speaking with a local nonprofit organization, Kolkata City Mission, the 20-year-old business major started Freedom Code to combat sex trafficking by providing women in Kolkata with skills to help them earn a livelihood in textile production. 

“There’s six ladies right now that are being trained in scarf production, sari production and blanket work,” Johnson said.

He hopes Freedom Code, which he started in 2012, will allow women to provide for their families.

Each product they make has an embedded quick response code, which, when scanned, allows the consumer to read about and see a picture of the woman who made it. 

Johnson is also launching Looma Project, a site that will house profiles of the women, including videos of them telling their own stories. Customers will also be able to interact with the women on message boards and share pictures of themselves wearing the garments. 


Four UNC juniors are working to give Chapel Hill and Carrboro teachers the resources they need to bring more hands-on science experiments into middle school classrooms.

In the spring of 2013, Mihir Pershad, Zach Dvorak, Charlotte Story and Calvin Snyder started designing kits containing all of the necessary equipment to give students the chance to explore science outside of textbooks and PowerPoints. 

For each kit, teachers have the option of receiving a corresponding experiment curriculum written by the founding UNC students.

Pershad said targeting children in middle school can have a big impact on the rest of their education.

“Science education research has shown that the biggest impact can be made on middle school students,” he said. “That’s when at least almost half of students make a decision about whether or not to stay in (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).”

Pershad said SUCCEED strives to connect students to science early on and give them access to a type of education they would not normally receive. 


Locals diagnosed with mental illness could soon find work thanks to two recent UNC graduates, a professor in the UNC School of Social Work and the director of operations for the UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health. 

The team created Emerge, an organization that aims to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness. The startup works with people at the center who are interested in creating their own small business. 

Erin Bergstrom, a recent School of Social Work graduate, said working helps supplement typical mental health care. She said 80 percent of people with mental illness in the U.S. are unemployed. 

“This is basically another form of treatment in a lot of ways,” Bergstrom said. “There’s a lot of research that has been emerging around the value of working and having that be a part of people’s life. It’s a huge part of all of our lives.”

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The organization is working to find established local businesses to buy the patients’ products and services, which include sustainable poultry, honey production and tax preparation.

Boys on Track

In 2013, UNC Interpersonal Violence Prevention Coordinator Bob Pleasants founded Boys on Track, an after-school program for middle school boys. 

The program teaches children about healthy ways to interpret the idea of masculinity and fosters healthy lifestyle habits.

Mentors from UNC go to different middle schools in the Triangle area each semester, most recently the School for Creative Studies in Durham in the spring. 

The boys engage in activities like running, group lessons and team-building sessions.

In addition to exercises intended to help boys deal with bullying, peer pressure and social expectations of manliness, the program facilitates a sense of community, aiming to create long-term bonds.

“We’re not necessarily trying to redefine masculinity,” said UNC senior and Boys on Track mentor Charlie Shelton. 

“We’re trying to empower these younger boys to be comfortable with who they are and how they want to define their masculinity.”

Junior Kern Williams, a Daily Tar Heel editorial board member, is also a founder.