RADIUS Spotlight: Brave Technology Coop

Brave envisions a world where every overdose is reversed. They build tools with people who use drugs to make overdose detection accessible to everyone, especially those most at risk.

RADIUS’ Health Promotion Lab partnered with Vancouver-based harm reduction and technology coop Brave in 2020 to connect the Lab’s health-equity-centred participants to ventures focusing on health interventions in the community. Brave joined the advisory team, supporting the Reimagine Health program—an ideation incubator for health advocates and emerging innovators, and Trampoline—an early-stage accelerator for ventures, social enterprises, businesses, coops, or initiatives wanting to scale their idea.

RADIUS’ Health Promotion Lab advisors provide invaluable mentorship to participants by sharing their unique experiences and insights on building a health-equity-centred business and connecting them with resources and networks. The Lab partners with advisors actively working in the health equity-seeking field and who align with RADIUS’ core principles.

“Brave envisions a world where communities are defined by compassion and trust for one another and where people feel safe and have access to the help they need. Brave was founded on principles of economic justice and accountability to the people that use their tools.”

RADIUS caught up with Gordon Casey from Brave, to talk about the work, what’s next, and what advice they have for anyone embarking on a health-entrepreneurship journey.

Brave’s work in overdose prevention and harm reduction is desperately needed, particularly in Vancouver. What do you want to share about this work with our readers?

Tragically it’s something that is urgent everywhere at this point. The US just released their fatality numbers for 2021 – 108,000 people in one year—it’s horrific. And every death was preventable if the right tools were in place. 

Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a miracle drug that revives people from an overdose nearly instantly. [There are rare occasions where it might not work due to pre-existing medical conditions or other substances being in a person’s system.) 

But all the Naloxone in the world won’t help you if you’re behind a closed door, alone, when you overdose. Harm reduction emphasizes having an overdose preparedness plan – who can you use with, how will you ensure someone knows if you do overdose, will you have Naloxone with you, etc. This is different from getting your drugs tested and using a sterile syringe—this is like disaster preparedness but for overdose. 

What challenges do you face right now? What keeps you going? 

It’s heart-breaking to know that there are tools and solutions that work but aren’t being adopted due to policy or political considerations. For example, we know that supervised consumption sites reduce overdose deaths, we know that access to medically assisted treatment reduces death, we know that distribution of Naloxone helps, and a medical-grade supply of opioids to those that are going to use can help. But each of these interventions is implemented piecemeal according to policymaker’s whims and philosophical outlooks. 

What keeps us going is that Brave has the potential to pierce through those barriers and constraints. We are far from being a comprehensive or permanent solution, but – if you are a housing provider living in an area that will never get a supervised consumption site for whatever reason… you can still install our buttons and keep your residents safe. If you are a community organization serving people who use drugs but know your street supply is contaminated, you can still give them access to our app or phone line. We’ve kept more than 100 people alive from an overdose so far. What’s tragic is that the number is a drop in the bucket when more than 300 people are dying every day across North America. 

What advice do you give to people just starting their social impact and entrepreneurship journey?

There are so many things to do! It’s so hard to choose which one to focus on right now, today, or this week. We all often talk about “juggling” – and you will juggle, of course, but focus has SO much value. On the one hand, it allows you to accomplish a lot on one topic, and on the other, it forces you to acknowledge that you can, in fact, only work on one thing at a time. So, practically speaking, I would suggest choosing the Next Three Things that you want to work on, and then pick one for today and do that one until you’re finished. And so on. 

Other than that, the one thing I often find social entrepreneurs are missing is a crystal clear understanding of the problem you are trying to solve. If you know exactly what you’re trying to solve, most other things fall into place. You probably won’t have it on day one, that’s okay, but you need to make a point of trying to refine it because if you have the discipline to do that – and the humility to recognize that you don’t quite have it yet, it will bring everything else into clear relief once you get there.

Why did you choose to be a mentor with the Health Promotion Lab?

Both Brave and me, personally, have benefited substantially from the wisdom, advice and support of SO many people over the years. It’s important to pay it forward, even if it’s an obligation that will never be fully repaid. 

What advice were you given that helped you build Brave and now carry through in your day-to-day work?

“Just do it.” A mentor had been listening to me pitch to a room full of mentors and advisors, answering their questions about Brave – at a point where we proudly had no business model because we hadn’t fully figured out our theory of change or validated either our problem analysis or solution. (We were, as it turns out, just about to make a significant pivot.) This mentor approached me after the session and told me to ignore everyone else, they didn’t understand impact or what Brave was about, and at this point of Brave’s existence, perseverance was the most important thing. 

Brave is a cooperative that builds tools to detect and respond to an overdose. They connect people with timely and life-saving support if an overdose occurs. Their staff team works out of Vancouver, BC, and Columbus, OH, and those who use and contribute to our tools are located across North America.

You can learn more about Brave’s story, coop structure, and how to get involved here.

The RADIUS Health Promotion Lab centres health-equity while fostering the creation and incubation of equity-based models, ventures, partnerships, and interventions by those from communities disproportionately impacted by health inequities. 

Want to learn more or get involved with the RADIUS Health Promotion Lab? Click here.