As the proverb goes, “necessity is the mother of invention.” In the case of Christian Johnson, the necessity was having a son who was about to get his driver’s license.
Like most parents, Johnson was terrified thinking of her teenager behind the wheel. She knew she couldn’t always be in the car with him, so the 40-year-old Buffalo native did the next best thing — she invented a product to be there virtually.
“With all the distracted driving accidents you hear about, I started freaking out,” said Johnson, a University of Buffalo graduate who grew up on Buffalo’s East Side. “It was also when there were a lot of the police pull-overs happening, and that was making me worried.”
Around the same time, in 2014, Johnson’s mom suffered a diabetic stroke while behind the wheel.
“I began to look for a product to monitor driving and when I couldn’t find one I liked, I decided to develop my own. We call it the smart driver’s companion,” she says of her invention, Driver Watchdog. “It provides for on-demand behavior responses to proactively avoid an emergency situation while you are driving.”
After coming up with the concept, she began recruiting people with the right skills.
“I know what I don’t know, and for me, I didn’t know about this area of consumer electronics,” she says.
It’s not her first start-up, however — in 2008 she founded JCS Global Assets LLC, a debt collection agency, which she still operates today.
“Although these are two very different businesses, I’m passionate about both,” she says. “Being an entrepreneur is just something that’s in me, and I just find ways to make things work everyday.”
Johnson says being an African-American woman in a business world still dominated by white men can be challenging, and at one point she was close to relocating her business to Atlanta.
“I anticipated when I started that I would have to work twice as hard to get people to take me seriously,” she says. “But ultimately I decided to stay in Buffalo, and I was surprised at how much support I got and how many people were willing to give their time to help
She credits one group in particular with helping her move her vision forward.
“The Buffalo Urban League took me under their wing,” she says. “They started connecting us with the right people and that’s when it really started taking off.”
Today, Johnson and her team have a prototype and are raising start-up capital to begin production on Driver Watchdog by Fall 2017.
“Fundraising is the obstacle everyone has to get over. It’s hard to ask people for money, but I really believe in my product and I think it can make a big difference in people’s lives.”
To that end, Johnson says she is a long-term planner. She wants to see Driver Watchdog utilized in ridesharing programs, by insurance companies and eventually, adapted and advanced to work in airplanes. She also says she is proud to be launching her invention — with its capacity to be a life-saving device — in her hometown of Buffalo.
“My family is here, my heart is in Buffalo, and I am so happy to be here and to be part of this community.”