Big & Mini: UT Students Start Non-Profit to Combat Social Isolation and Bring People Together Across Generations
Big & Mini launched in April 2020 with the huge audacious goal of combating social isolation and bringing people together across generations.
Founded by Aditi Merchant (a UT sophomore studying Biomedical Engineering), Allen Zhou (a UT sophomore studying Computer Engineering), and Anthony Zhou (a high school senior at the Texas Academy of Math and Science), Big & Mini is a platform that connects youth and seniors through virtual interactions to foster mutually beneficial connections, share stories, and eradicate loneliness.
The trio founded the Big & Mini as a non-profit in response to Covid-19. Aditi, Allen, and Anthony were inspired by both their personal experiences volunteering in nursing homes, which gifted them amazing stories and relationships they would not have had otherwise, and connecting with their grandparents — who all live across oceans — through different video conferencing tools.
When the pandemic hit, the team observed an overall sense of loneliness and negative mental health implications associated with the isolation in the community and knew now was the time to launch their Big & Mini platform.
“Within a week, we built and launched the initial version of our website, and were able to start getting people signed up,” shared Anthony.
Although the process of launching a venture and digital product is not without challenges, the team feels motivated by the overwhelming support they’ve received.
“When we do something wrong, we hear about it. Users will reach out to us and say the ‘sign up is down,’ ‘the login is down,’ ‘I’m not getting your emails.’ On one hand, that’s a big challenge. But on the other, it’s very motivating to see that people are actually using our software and appreciate the work we’re doing,” Anthony described.
Currently, Big & Mini has over 1,500 volunteers across all 50 U.S states and 22 countries. The company has also had over 40 media features including outlets such as the Houston Chronicle, SoulPancake, Fox News, and The Today Show.
Through their involvement with the LaunchPad at UT Austin (starting with the LaunchPad Fellowship program this past summer), the co-founders have been able to obtain grants, mentorship, new connections, and a sense of community at UT.
“The LaunchPad has been instrumental in the growth we’ve had so far,” expressed Allen. The conversations with all of the different “people we got connected to were so insightful in how to move Big & Mini forward,”shared Aditi.
Big & Mini is a story of three teenagers who started with no professional background in the space of longevity but a desire to make a difference. Now they’ve been able to reach the lives of thousands of people.
The team recalls a story in which a Mini expressed, “I can’t wait till I’m a Big in 30 or 40 years.” Allen, Aditi, and Anthony revealed, “That was really profound to us because we’ve been alive for less than 20 years. To think about our organization existing 30–40 years in the future, double our age, and still impacting people… . That’s really crazy to us, but people on our platform are thinking about that. I think as long as people want us then we’ll be around.”
As for the next steps, the co-founders are giving thought to how they can reach even more people.
“One of the challenges we’re seeing is that a lot of the people we’re trying to reach may not have the access to traditional technology or means of connecting with others. We are trying to work towards ensuring that we’re able to provide everyone with the resources they need to access our platform,” commented Aditi. Furthermore, “accepting the fact that maybe I do want to connect with someone and maybe I am feeling a little bit lonely is kind of a tough thing to swallow. So making sure that we make our platform more accessible and something people will see the value of is something we are working towards at all times.”
Currently, Big & Mini is looking for funding and resources to help their users who lack a stable device or internet access. “The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to never lose sight of your users. At the end of the day we come back and ask, what do we really care about? And we’re about helping people,” said Anthony.
Learn more, sign up to be a Big or Mini, or donate at bigandmini.org.
By LaunchPad Innovation Fellow, Montse Santibanez.