Courtney Williamson, PhD
President and founder of AbiliLife

Courtney Williamson’s mother inspired her to form AbiliLife, a North Side tech firm that focuses on the sick and the elderly.

“My mom had Parkinson’s disease for 25 years, and my family and I were her caregivers,” says Williamson, 30, of Highland Park. “I was at Carnegie Mellon University studying for my PhD in organizational behavior, and my mom’s disease was progressing. One thing I noticed was her posture was worsening. She would slump forward in a very protracted manner and it was difficult for her to function normally in terms of walking and sitting in chairs and eating. I called the National Parkinson’s Foundation to find a solution, and they said they didn’t have any products specifically dealing with this issue.”

So Williamson teamed up with an engineering class at CMU to try to make something — anything — to ease her mother’s discomfort. In 2014, she founded AbiliLife and began marketing the Calibrace+, an orthotic back brace that counteracts slumping for people with Parkinson’s by lifting the shoulders and back to give patients support.

Calibrace+ is FDA-registered, covered by Medicare and available in 30 states and more than 50 prescribing hospitals, Williamson says.

And she did it for her mom, who died four years ago, but knew of and supported her daughter’s quest to help others with debilitating posture problems.

“It was all for my mom, just wanting to do something to help her,” she says. “Like any mom, she was supportive.”

AbiliLife is now developing wearable technology that would help track patients’ movements and monitor symptoms.

As for what advice she would offer other women considering a career in tech, Williamson says simply: “Don’t wait for permission.”

Chris Togneri

Chris Togneri is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.