Texas Tech University

Teen Entrepreneur's Startup Helps People Grieving Loss of Loved Ones

Innovation Hub Team

January 13, 2020

London Williams is using her personal experiences to 'pay it forward'

Fifteen-year-old entrepreneur London Williams knows about living with and through grief after the deeply felt loss of loved ones. Over the past three years, she's shared that intensely personal journey with a special companion who's helped her cope and find solace. "We call him Daddy Bear," she says.

Williams explains, "About a month or so before Dad passed, he was admitted to hospice care, which is for people who are actively dying, as they say. On one of our last counseling visits, the hospice staff gave us a card for a lady who made bears for people who have lost someone dear to them. She made them using an item of the patient's clothing, their favorite accessory, or a blanket they used. Each bear she made is uniquely personal. She's not able to make them anymore because of a health problem. So I want to continue the heartfelt legacy and help others the way it's helped me."

Williams' bear is crafted from one of her father's unwashed work shirts, including its patches and oil stains that preserve the feel and her father's scent that she remembers. Buttons from the shirt form the bear's eyes. "My younger brother's bear has a bandana that our dad wore. We even put sunglasses on our bears because Dad always wore them," she says.

Start of the hustle

Williams first came to the Texas Tech Innovation Hub a year ago as a participant in a Lubbock Chamber of Commerce program for young entrepreneurs. Initially, she wanted to make handcrafted leather-bound journals. While she learned all the basics of starting a business through that program, Williams wasn't completely sold on the journal-making idea. "Eventually, I just couldn't see myself sticking with it," she says.

The lessons and spirit of entrepreneurship did take hold, however. She returned to the Hub in November for the Red Raider Startup High School program, where she began developing the basis for her bear business. "My commitment to this startup idea is much stronger. It's more meaningful and has a bigger impact. I can see myself doing this well into my adult years," she says. "In my mind, it's not even a product. It's more like therapy to help with a grieving person's need for comfort."

Williams recently pitched her startup plans in the video she entered in the Innovation Hub's Red Raider Idea Competition. "When you lose somebody, no matter how old you are, you just want something to hug. These bears can't hug you back, but it feels like they can." She adds, "My dad was pretty exuberant. He was a big guy, and he was great to hug. Whenever you hug a special stuffed animal, you kind of feel at home. That's how Dad's hugs felt. It helps."

Startup therapy 

Sewing itself is therapeutic for Williams. It helps her connect with many threads of family ties. "My great-grandmother would crochet. She tried to teach me. My mom and I also sewed together sometimes. I've asked my grandmother Nan to help me with this project." Williams says there's another aspect to sewing that's helped her, too. "I have a pretty hectic life. It feels really good to stop and do something with my hands."

For Williams, passion and impact are crucial to the hustle that drives her. "To me, hustle means making a difference and doing something you love. A lot of what fuels me is my experiences and emotions." She credits her parents as role models and inspiration. "Mom always had little businesses. She sold Avon, Scentsy, Tupperware. She did a lot. Dad always worked. He had a rather dangerous job. All that just helps me think, 'I can do this!' "