Turning her stress into a tool for others

Calm Clarity is a Philadelphia-based "mind hacking" start-up that aims to help everyone from corporate executives to students learn mindfulness, reduce toxic stress, and boost productivity.

Not surprisingly, its founder was born in a war zone.

Due Quach (pronounced "Zway Kwok") was just a baby when her parents fled Vietnam as boat people in 1979. As refugees, they entered the United States through San Francisco in 1980 and ultimately settled in North Philadelphia.

Then the next battle began. Quach and her parents opened a restaurant in West Oak Lane, and "we traded one war zone for another," she recalls.

Her father was beaten in the neighborhood, gangs shot at each other in their restaurant, and Quach was so traumatized she didn't speak until kindergarten.

Luckily, she says, "school became an escape, and before graduating from Central High School, my parents said if I got into the best college, I could leave home."

She won a place at Harvard, and immediately noticed that her classmates "had come from boarding schools, and had their own privileged hang-ups. I had parents who couldn't understand what 'spam' email was, and I started feeling guilty for not being at home helping them."

Her senior year, Quach fought panic attacks, couldn't sleep, and almost didn't finish Harvard.

"I finally broke down and sought out a psychologist, who explained that trauma and stress impact the brain."

She stabilized with medication and therapy, then began researching what she calls "mind hacking" techniques. She stopped pulling all-nighters, ate better, quit isolating herself, and graduated. After working in consulting, she earned a Wharton School M.B.A. in 2006, then spent four years working in finance in Asia, even visiting Vietnam.

"I wanted to come back to the U.S. and do something that makes a difference," she says.

Quach studied Tibetan Buddhist meditation specifically for Western audiences and became a certified yoga instructor. But "I don't believe in the New Agey dogma; instead I believe in the clear scientific evidence of the benefits of meditation."

In 2014, she founded Calm Clarity, which integrates neuroscience into mindful leadership training to enhance concentration, creativity, decision-making, and teamwork.

"We show professionals how to optimize their state of mind and address counterproductive habits that contribute to stress, tension, and health issues," she says.

"I call it trauma-informed resilience training," using the science of "learned optimism" from psychologists such as Daniel Kahneman and Martin Seligman at Penn, who is known as the "father of positive psychology."

Calm Clarity has worked with Cabrini College, Bartram and Masterman High Schools, the Wharton Alumni Club, and other educational institutions to address toxic stress and prevent burnout, which Quach remembers well.

"People report reduced stress, public speaking without panicking, and they love it."

Gina Scarpello, director of Cabrini Mission Corps, calls the workshops "very practical. People change with these tools."

A weekend workshop costs $400; educators and students receive reduced rates. Calm Clarity also offers shorter sessions. For information, visit calmclarity.org.

Doing well by doing good

Quach wants Calm Clarity to grow from a nonprofit to a for-profit in 2016, but in the form known as a "B corporation."

B corporations have a double bottom line: making money and a social impact. In the meantime, "we are running programs and pilots as a nonprofit project under the fiscal sponsorship of CultureTrust Greater Philadelphia," she explains.

Calm Clarity operates out of CultureTrust's offices at 1315 Walnut St., along with other start-ups that need back-office support and sponsorship.

B corporations include well-known brands such as Ben & Jerry's, Honest Co., Warby Parker, King Arthur Flour, and Method Products; tech start-ups such as Kickstarter, Etsy, and HootSuite; and sustainable-business icons like Seventh Generation and Patagonia.

The outfit that grants B-corporation certification, both nationally and internationally, is in Wayne. Called B Lab, it was founded by Jay Coen Gilbert, Bart Houlahan, and Andrew Kassoy, who were college friends.

Prior to B Lab, Gilbert and Houlahan sold AND1, a $250 million basketball footwear and apparel business. Kassoy is a private-equity investor, most recently at MSD Real Estate Capital, a $1 billion real estate fund controlled by MSD Capital, the investment vehicle for tech entrepreneur Michael Dell and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.

For more information on B corporations, visit B Lab's website, www.bcorporation.net.

earvedlund@phillynews.com

215-854-2808@erinarvedlund

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