Moms about town

App aims to connect Houston mothers using AI technology

Houston-based Social Mama uses its platform to connect mothers based on location, interests, and the things their children have in common. Courtesy of Social Mama

Sometimes, to be a mom, is to feel utterly alone. Not every mom is the same, and it's tough for women to find the right support systems — people who are going through or have gone through the same struggles.

A new Houston-based app, Social Mama, is providing a solution. The technology uses artificial intelligence and data collection to learn about its users and match them to other users based on their location and specifications. It's like online dating, but for mothers, co-founder Amanda Ducach says.

"The social impact of the product is so important," Ducach says. "I can't explain to you the isolation and the problem that exists in motherhood. I was completely unaware of it before I started the company."

The idea came to Ducach when she moved across the country to Houston from Minneapolis. Her best friend was in sudden need of a new network — preferably moms who liked wine, spoke Spanish, and had peanut-free households so her son could play without the risk of his allergies. Wanting to help the friend they had abandoned, Ducach and her husband, who is a data architect, decided to try to find a way to get there friend a new friend she could relate to.

"We realized there was nothing that existed that allowed two mothers to connect based on where they lived and their interests, that also took information about their children in account," Ducach says. "We decided to create it."

The app, which is based out of Station Houston, has been in beta with a couple thousand users, but, based on users' experiences, Ducach says they are making a lot of changes before they launch to the public in spring of this year.

Beta lessons learned
Thinking that mothers are too busy for lengthy setups, Ducach made signing up for Social Mama simple.

"We completely put out the wrong product, which isn't a bad thing," Ducach says. "We assumed they would want us to figure out who to match them with, but it's the complete opposite."

The mothers are happy to spend 10 to 15 minutes during the sign in process after downloading the free app, Ducach says, because they want to give the app as much information as possible. They are looking for niche matches.

Another surprise for Ducach was that, similar to dating apps, starting a conversation with a stranger — ideally matched or otherwise — is tough.

"We thought that because it was two women, and there's no sexual chemistry, that it would be easy for them to reach out and start a conversation," Ducach says. "But they actually still find it incredibly awkward."

The app will have things like ice breakers or games to help get the ball rolling.

She also didn't think the mothers would want something like a newsfeed. However, users who might not be in a highly populated city primed for face-to-face friendship still might want access to asking fellow mothers advice in a post on a forum. So, Social Mama will have a customizable, AI-generated newsfeed — kind of like a forum. Posts will have tags, and users will only see things they have an interest in.

"As you continue to use the app, it will create a persona for you," Ducach says, "and it's not mothers that are like you, but mothers you tell us you're looking for."

The app will know when a mother transitions from newborn mother to toddler mother, so that her matches stay relevant as her child ages.

Making an impact
This year, Social Mama will go live in the spring, and Ducach has several growth plans surrounding launch. The app will be fundraising for pre-seed money in 2019, and expanding the team to include a data scientist, as well as other department hires. The company currently has eight employees — most of which are in the Houston HQ — but some reside in Boston and around the world.

The core components of the app are the matching and AI-generated newsfeed, but hosting event meet ups is another successful avenue for the app, as is the potential to recommend products to the mothers. Ducach says this could be a part of the the app's business plan, as is a subscription model for moms to opt into extra perks.

"We know so much information about these moms that they are telling us, that we have the ability to send them recommended products from other mothers," she says.

While Ducach says the initial launch will only be in Houston, the app is already in big demand worldwide. She says they had to shut down the beta version because they had so many international downloads and they were concerned about cybersecurity.

"Moms want this in Germany, China, and Cypress, Texas," Ducach says. "It's really a need everywhere, and we're really excited to expand and see which markets take off."

Ducach says she is excited for the app to go live and affect these moms' lives.

"We're really excited because it should really change the trajectory of these women's lives and create a support group they've never had before," Ducach says.

social mama Social Mama went through a beta phase, but when it launches in the spring, it will be totally different. Courtesy of Social Mama

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Building Houston

 
 

As of this week, Lara Cottingham is the chief of staff at Greentown Labs. Photo via LinkedIn

The country's largest climatetech startup incubator has made a strategic new hire.

Lara Cottingham is the new chief of staff for Greentown Labs, a Boston-area company that opened in Houston earlier this year. Cottingham previously served as the city of Houston's chief sustainability officer and the chief of staff for the city's Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department for the past seven years. In her new role, Cottingham will oversee the day-to-day operations and communications for Greentown's CEO Emily Reichert, along with key stakeholder engagements and strategic initiatives for the incubator.

"Lara brings a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience to our team from her dynamic leadership role at the City of Houston," says Reichert in a news release. "Her breadth of knowledge in sustainability, climate, and the energy transition, and her expertise in regulatory and stakeholder aspects of the energy industry, will be incredibly valuable to our team and community."

Under her leadership at the city of Houston, Cottingham was the chief author of Houston's Climate Action Plan, an initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Houston, and getting the city to a point where it meets the Paris Agreement goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Cottingham helped the city move to 100 percent renewable electricity, according to the release, and helped turn a 240-acre landfill into the nation's largest urban solar farm.

"In leading the Climate Action Plan, Lara helped spark Houston's leadership in what has become a global energy transition and was a passionate advocate for climate action in Houston," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "While she will be missed, this new role will only strengthen our partnership with Greentown. I look forward to working with Emily, Lara, and the Greentown team to meet our climate goals and make Houston the energy capital of the future."

Before her work at the city, Cottingham worked at Hill+Knowlton Strategies' Houston office range of clients across the energy sector. Earlier in her career, she served as communications director for two congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives. She began her work with the city in 2014.

"In working with Mayor Turner and Climate Mayors across the U.S., I saw how important partnerships are to helping cities decarbonize," says Cottingham in the release. "There is no better partner or place for climate action at work than Greentown Labs. Greentown is 100 percent committed to attracting and nurturing the energy companies of the future and making Houston the energy transition capital of the world. I'm excited to join the team and see how climatetech can help cities reach their climate goals."

Greentown Labs first announced its entrance into the Houston market last summer. The new 40,000-square-foot facility in Midtown across the street from The Ion opened its prototyping and wet lab space, offices, and community gathering areas for about 50 startup companies opened in April. Greentown was founded in 2011 in Somerville, Massachusetts, and has supported more than 400 startups, which have raised more than $1.5 billion in funding.

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