By Nikki Ciecierski
Sharina Johnson (right) is pictured at the Ben Franklin TechCelerator program with Arcana Recovery co-founder Laura Arciuolo (left). Photo: Provided.
There can often be shame in seeking help for addiction. Just ask Sharina Johnson. As a military veteran who struggled with addiction after coming home from Iraq, she said the military taught her to be strong and that it’s important not to look weak by admitting a need for help. “That was why I delayed seeking the help I needed,” she explained.
But, fortunately, her story didn’t end there. She received help and then she got busy, forming her company, Arcana Recovery, Inc.
“I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I have always had ideas, but I was looking for something with a much bigger impact,” Johnson said. In January 2020, she came up with an idea for a mental health app with a chat bot that could help folks in emotional distress create an action plan. She wanted it to focus on addiction and, specifically, post-treatment support.
Johnson said, “Our competition is other recovery support platforms that focus on certain segments of recovery. We are taking a holistic approach — emotional support, housing, transportation, employment. We are connecting individuals to those resources.” As such, Arcana Recovery is a tool that can be used as part of the discharge process when an individual leaves an inpatient rehab and reenters the real world.
A personal recovery story ignites passion
“Many people assume those who struggle with substance abuse disorder are uneducated and don’t have good jobs. I was a young military vet. I was deployed to Iraq seven days after I turned 20. I came back and went to college. But I experienced things in war that most people can’t imagine, and that contributed to my substance abuse,” said Johnson.
However, while Johnson’s personal experiences inspired her to start Arcana Recovery, it’s the stories of others that keep her driven.
“There has been an incredible amount of support from people who have been through their own struggles. They reach out and share their stories. What motivates me are those stories — knowing that there are people all over the world that need extra help. People go back and forth to rehab. I want to look at why this is happening, how to reduce relapse and leaving early from the program,” she said.
“Shame kept me from telling my story for a long time. But everybody has their own issues. We are all human. You make mistakes, but if you grow and you are adding value to something, your transformation may be someone else’s motivation,” she added.
Johnson presents the Arcana Recovery app at Harrisburg University’s Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Blend Event. Photo: Provided.
Mentors help put an idea into action
Johnson enrolled in and won first place in the Ben Franklin Technology Partners’ TechCelerator Program and won $6,000. She used all the prize money for the development of the beta version of the Arcana Recovery app. However, Johnson said the TechCelerator gave her more than just the prize money.
“We focused on the business model. It’s important to know what products or services you are offering, the pricing and who your customer is,” she explained, noting that, prior to Ben Franklin, she had what she felt was a great idea in the Arcana Recovery app, but really no idea where to start.
“The advisors and mentors,” she said, “helped me learn how to create the business plan and what steps I needed to actually get the product to market.”
Ben Franklin Technology Partners’ Julie Bratton shared, “We are encouraged by Sharina's drive and Arcana Recovery's business mission to create and offer a technology tool to better connect those struggling with addiction to Recovery Support Services that are so critical in reducing their chances of relapse.”
The addiction recovery app is currently still in the development phase and will be fully launching in April 2023. In the meantime, Johnson said that Arcana Recovery, Inc. is continuing to partner with different entities and programs focused on addiction.
In addition to Ben Franklin, Johnson has participated in Penn State’s Idea Testlab and Harrisburg University’s Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Incubator. She was also the $50,000 grant recipient of the McNees Wallace and Nurick Law Firm LEAP program. This grant was awarded to be used toward legal fees.
Ben Franklin Technology Partners makes investments in tech-based startups in a 32-county footprint. It is the largest early-stage investor and supporter in the area. For more information about how Ben Franklin Technology Partners fuels startups in Pennsylvania, go to https://cnp.benfranklin.org/.