OhanaLink Nears National Launch, ‘Entrepreneurial Ecosystem’

HERMITAGE, Pa. — OhanaLink Technologies’ CEO Kara Wasser admits she’s a visual person, quick to display the company’s app projected on a screen. Soon, she’ll share her vision with a national audience, not just a conference room in western Pennsylvania.

The demonstration displays the OhanaLink mobile app, which connects families and patients throughout health care events or episodes. Introduced by the company in August, the app will have a national sales launch in “the next month or so,” says Wasser. Wednesday’s announcement of OhanaLink receiving a $100,000 loan from the Shenango Valley Enterprise Zone Corporation is spurring the debut. 

“After careful review and consideration of the application, our board unanimously approved the loan for OhanaLink Technologies,” states Jim Cardamon, zone coordinator. “We see the growth potential of what they are building; and we are happy to support them and other businesses, especially technology businesses, who are committed to the Shenango Valley.”

Wasser emphasizes the importance of her company’s product, how family is the basis of this technology. OhanaLink — which operates out of Hermitage’s business incubator, [email protected] — was generated out of a meeting, trying to brand a word for family. The word “ohana” means “family” in Hawaiian. 

“Ohana just seemed very warm and inviting, and that’s what we want to create,” explains Wasser.

Her idea spawned into something tangible in 2017 after she missed the birth of her niece a year earlier. Wasser vowed not to let other families befall the same predicament. She became obsessed with the problem, fixating on the disconnection between loved ones and health-related events.

The OhanaLink app includes OhanaLink Baby, OhanaLink Health Kids and OhanaLink Health. Additionally, the tech company, in partnership with Reynolds Services Inc., Greenville, launched an employer-sponsored subscription product, OhanaLink at Work, to help keep employees and their families connected during healthcare episodes.

“We are happy to offer OhanaLink at Work as an added benefit for our employees,” says John R. Frangakis, chairman and CEO of Reynolds Services, Inc.

OhanaLink Baby, OhanaLink Health and OhanaLink Health Kids keeps patients, families and friends interconnected. Users can store background information on the patient, so everyone is receiving the same, accurate, updated information through secure measures, not a social media forum such as Facebook.

“We will not be selling data,” Wasser says. “Your data is private and you are aware of users. So we make sure that all of our users go through a verification process to be added into a waiting room. So, it is an invite only. There’s no friends of friends or creeping on people’s profiles. Everything is very private.”

Patients can provide their location and any other information, such as allergies and a planner to keep family members updated on any help with obligations the patient might need.

In addition, there are tools to send e-greeting cards, gift certificates or to locate businesses near the patient’s hospital for shopping. Other resources are available, such as nursing coaches for new mothers.

“Not only are we taking out the friction of sending out information, but we’re taking out the friction of being the support person as well.” Wasser says. “We know you want to send them thoughts and wishes and maybe not send them a text because they’re in surgery. They can get back to these messages at any time.”

Ben Franklin Technology Partners supported Wasser’s plan as she built her business. In January 2019, Wasser eventually left her full-time job as a real estate lender. 

BFTP taught Wasser her invention wasn’t just an app, but a business that could create jobs. She says the Pennsylvania-based company told her how to structure this new business and how to fund the development of the product.

Brian Slawin, director and portfolio manager with Ben Franklin Technology Partners, says the organization provided more than $222,000 to her company, including $100,000 in July 2020.

“With their support, they provided a lot more than just funding,” Wasser says. “They were providing me [human resources], business resources and so on.”

OhanaLink employs nine full time, two part-timers and an intern, but it was just Wasser in January of 2020. This year, she looks to hire 10 to 15, mostly to expand OhanaLink’s salesforce and sales support staff, as well as the technical team.

Tom McKinley, chief technical officer, has experience at Apple and Motorola. In January, OhanaLink hired Lisa DiMuccio-Zgela, former director of marketing and community relations for Sharon Regional Medical Center, and Sherris Moreira, former director of the Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce. DiMuccio-Zgela is the company’s chief marketing officer, and Moreira is director of business development

Touting the upcoming national sales launch, DiMuccio-Zgela says the Shenango Valley is fortunate to have a visionary like Wasser and a company like OhanaLink based there. The company’s presence might encourage the area’s youth to stay and work in western Pennsylvania rather than leave, she says.

“You don’t see, first of all, technology companies sprouting up in small rural communities,” DiMuccio-Zgela says. “That just doesn’t happen.”

OhanaLink works to support area students as well. Wasser mentors business majors through Westminster College’s Entrepreneurship Center, and her company has brought on interns from Westminster and Thiel College. She’s also tapped students from nearby Laurel Technical Institute for things like data security.

The idea is to “develop this entrepreneurial ecosystem” in Mercer County so young people, including her own teenage children, can stay in the area and turn their ideas into businesses that can be cultivated in the Shenango Valley, she says.

“The other part is just creating jobs and good jobs, technical jobs, sales and marketing,” Wasser says.

Progress starts with networking in Mercer County and sharing ideas. DiMuccio-Zgela came to OhanaLink after listening to Wasser’s ideas and being intrigued by her vision, she says. She foresees OhanaLink helping spur more ideas around Mercer County, just like the one Wasser had a couple of years ago.

“I think it’s really just having discussions,” DiMuccio-Zgela says. “It’s letting people know that we are here. We’ve got experts that are part of our organization and that we’re willing to share our expertise and kind of help develop that along the way.” 

Pictures: Tom McKinley, Kara Wasser and Lisa DiMuccio-Zgela stand in front of the OhanaLink Technologies office in Hermitage, Pa.