We believe that all children’s needs are special.
Carissa Tozzi: I've spent my career in editorial development, celebrity casting, and public relations, working with major media outlets such as Refinery29, Seventeen magazine, Youtube and MTV, and being obsessed with my job. Then I had my son and suddenly my life refocused on all things, baby and child. I immersed myself in the world of toys, décor, and fashion for kids. But when my son (who is neurotypical) was in preschool, his teachers suggested he may have some sensory sensitivities and I was promptly handed a folder of catalogs for some “stuff” that might help. I had no understanding of what sensory issues were and after extensive research, I realized that many of the toys and therapeutic tools that were suggested, while available on uninspiring clinical websites, were also sold on Amazon and design-inspired kids' shops. So I started curating these items on Pinterest and Instagram in a way that felt friendly and safe, while also providing easily readable insight on how to use them at home. At the same time, I discovered through conversations with my friends and colleagues, that their children were experiencing various diagnoses and delays so it was clear that a shopping and lifestyle destination for families that was inclusive, inspiring, and fun was needed. So I approached Gena, whom I've known since elementary school (she was raising two boys on the autism spectrum) about helping me bring this idea to life.
Gena Mann: I spent 10 years working as a Photo Editor in New York City for Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine, and CosmoGIRL! but I left magazines shortly after my second son was born and my first child was diagnosed with autism at 2-years-old. I moved to Connecticut to create a therapeutic program for my son. Carissa came to me shortly after I’d had my 4th child (two girls followed the boys!). I was a bit overwhelmed in my new role as a mom of four. But when she showed me an early prototype of Wolf + Friends that she’d designed herself, I was immediately determined to become involved. It can be a lonely, terrifying, and costly experience trying to navigate everything that comes with having special needs children and I knew there had to be moms like me who felt the same way. So we reached out to our amazing community of moms to see what kind of support they needed most. Many were feeling isolated and alone and wanted to meet friends nearby who would truly understand the beauty and challenges of raising a child with special needs. The Wolf + Friends app is what I wish I had when my son was first diagnosed with autism.
+ About Our App:
The Wolf + Friends app is designed for women to connect with like-minded women in their neighborhoods who are also raising children with autism, ADHD, learning differences, developmental delays, anxiety, giftedness, behavioral challenges, SPD, and down syndrome. In a judgement-free space, members create a peer to peer support system via direct messages and group chats, making connections with new friends and mentors. Our community has access to a curated content feed where they can read relevant news, shop stylish and developmentally appropriate products, and get lifestyle tips from occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, child psychologists, behaviorists, financial advisors and other experts.
+ Our Advisors + Experts
Paul Caine, Founder PC Ventures, is a results-driven C-suite executive with extensive track record building, operating, transforming and investing in small and large scale public and private businesses to maximize profit. Best known for his leadership roles as Chairman and Interim CEO of Tremor Video, CEO of WestwoodOne, Founder of PC Ventures and EVP of Time Inc. Caine lives in Tenafly NJ with his wife and three children.
Michelle Schiller, is the Director of Advertising at Wolf + Friends. Michelle is a Marketing and Advertising Specialist with 10+ years experience at Advertising Agencies and large Publishing Houses such as Rodale, Hearst and Dow Jones. Most recently Michelle was National Sales Director at Prevention.com where she focused on creating meaningful relationships with Agencies / Brands by understanding their marketing objectives and ultimately bringing their story to life through each properties unique audience and editorial voice. Michelle believes that helping brands connect to their target audience in an authentic way is the formula for a successful long-term partnership. Michelle and her husband Geoff live in Tenafly, NJ with their three sons and actively uses the Wolf + Friends App.
Erin Leach is the Head of Brand Partnerships at Wolf + Friends, where she leads collaborations on sponsored content, brand advertising, influencer marketing programs and event activations. Prior to Wolf + Friends, Erin spent eight years with BSE Global, parent company of Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets, and the New York Islanders franchises. During her time at BSE, she was responsible for providing exceptional experiences for the arena’s premier portfolio of clients. Erin started her career as an Advertising Sales Assistant at Seventeen Magazine, working with national and global brands on partnering with the iconic magazine. Erin believes it’s essential to create synergies and elevate brand platforms in a valuable and organic way, which she brings to all her relationships at Wolf + Friends. Erin lives in New York City with her husband, John.
Alyse Kelly is an accomplished credit analyst with more than 15 years of experience analyzing the business and financial profiles of companies within the Media & Entertainment industries. Alyse is currently a Director at Valcour Capital Management LLC. Her experience includes making investment decisions pertaining to corporate loan transactions, assessing companies’ business plans and cash flow capabilities, and communicating with investors. Alyse lives in Connecticut with her husband James and her two daughters, who are begging her to get a dog.
Susan Kaplow is a digital editorial executive with more than 17 years experience developing large content organizations and multi-platform programming for media companies including SheKnows Media, Refinery 29, The Huffington Post, Conde Nast, and Alloy Media and Marketing. Susan recently served as Chief Content Officer at Apartment Therapy Media, the publisher of shelter and food sites Apartment Therapy and Kitchn. She is currently the VP, Brand and Content at InVision. Susan lives in Brooklyn with her husband Mark, her two daughters Evan and Claude, and Ori, the world’s best rescue pup.
Benish Shah is the Chief Growth Officer at Loop & Tie. Prior to that, she was the VP of Marketing at Raised Real, a direct to consumer brand where she oversaw brand, product, content, social, marketing, and CX and was Head of Product Marketing at Refinery29 building out their technology offering and launching their first app, which exceeded annual goals within the first quarter. Her background focuses on go-to-market strategies for new products.
Genevieve Thiers is the founder of Sittercity.com and on the board of 1871 and OperaModa.com. She lives in Chicago, IL. She is a founder in tech and has invested in over 10 women-in-tech companies, including Brideside, Itsbyu, Zipfit, Founding Moms, MoxieJean, BallotReady, Knowledgehound, Pixavo, Openbooks, and The Graide Network, among others. She is dedicated to fixing the imbalance of women in tech.
Alescia Ford-Lanza MS OTR/L, ATP is an Occupational Therapist and Assistive Technology Practitioner with 15 years of pediatric experience. She specializes in educationally-relevant interventions with a focus on sensory integration and assistive technology supports to learning. Alescia recently founded Adapt & Learn, LLC. on the mission that children of all abilities can play, learn, adapt, and develop with the right therapeutic and educational supports. Alescia strives to help children along this continuum by fostering a love of learning.
Tara Covais Varsov is a psychotherapist in private practice and has spent much of her nearly 20 year career helping the most vulnerable children and families – including those with developmental special needs, in the foster care and family court system, Head Start, and many who have experienced severe and ongoing trauma. Tara was one of only 20 professionals selected nationwide for a fellowship by the National Association for the Education of Young Children to participate in the Strengthening Families Program for Child Abuse Prevention. She has been a mental health consultant for Bank Street Head Start in New York City and was previously the Director of Family Services for Lenox Hill Neighborhood House. Tara studied psychoanalysis and psychotherapy at the Institute for Child, Adolescent and Family Studies, holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from New York University, and a Bachelor’s degree in Human Development from the University of Rhode Island. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and two children.
Dr. Gwen Lopez-Cohen is a board certified Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist in Westport, Connecticut with clinical expertise in anxiety, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorders. Prior to her career in medicine, Dr. Lopez-Cohen was an early childhood educator.
Engine Group: Marketing, Communication + Audience Development
Wildcard: App Developers