Put the phones down

Houston safe driving app backed by Memorial Hermann plans Texas expansion

A Houston-based app, SAFE 2 SAVE, rewards drivers for putting their phones away while driving. Pexels

Between 2016 and 2017, distracted driving accidents in Harris County rose 62 percent, according to the Texas Department of Transportation, and a local hospital system is stepping up to keep drivers and their passengers out of their emergency rooms.

Memorial Hermann's critical care air transport service Life Flight is partnering with app SAFE 2 SAVE to reward drivers who keep their minds focused and their eyes on the road. The app launched in Houston in January of 2016, and wants to expand to other Texas markets this year.

"Part of our role as trusted providers of high-quality trauma care for our community is to educate and empower people across the region to change behaviors that cause preventable traumas," Tom Flanagan, Memorial Hermann's vice president of Trauma Service Line and System Integration, says in a press release. "We are tapping into the technology that has become such a large part of people's lives and coincidentally, a major part of distracted driving."

The idea for SAFE 2 SAVE began when College Station pastor's wife Marci Corry, who previously worked for Merck — a large pharmaceutical company, met with a college student she was mentoring to discuss how to help the student's peers detach from their phones. They agreed that incentives, particularly food, were the key, and not just for college kids. Corry was inspired by the news of a Chick-fil-A franchise that used a "Cell Phone Coop" challenge to get customers to talk to each other and rewarded them for restricting their cell use with free ice cream at the end of the meal. "Let's do an app version of that!" she remembers saying at the time.

That was October 2016. In that time, the app has blown up to include a fan base of more than 148,000 users. The company has 20 employees, including two based full-time in Houston.

"We're so fortunate we have a product that everyone is interested in," says vice president of operations, Christina Rudolph. "We have such a unique place in the market because everyone likes our app. There aren't a lot of products to change behavior and food is such a motivator."

The sales team at SAFE 2 SAVE works hard to make the rewards appealing to a broad swath of users, not just college students, so while there are discounts at Chick-fil-A and Dave & Buster's, it's far from the whole story. In Houston, food options include free dishes at State Fare and discounts at Cacao & Cardamom, but also 20 percent off at Rooftop Cinema Club or discounted classes at Pure Barre.

For every minute of driving over 10 miles per hour without using their phones, users rack up two points. As long as users set navigation apps and music before they start driving, they can use those, too.

They can also earn more by referring friends. With enough friends on board, it's easy to organize a competition, a great incentive for family and friends to keep each other in check about safe driving.

"To get people to live a life that's less distracted, there's a ripple effect for users," Corry says of the human connection the app helps to foster.

SAFE 2 SAVE launched in Houston in January of 2018. Before that, Corry connected with Memorial Hermann at a Lifesavers National Conference on Highway Safety Priorities.

"They said, 'We want this to stop happening. We don't want these people being pushed through our door on a stretcher and this is epidemic in Houston,'" Corry says.

The sponsorship means that whenever users in Houston open the SAFE 2 SAVE app, they are met with the words, "Is it really worth it? Memorial Hermann Life Flight says no." The hospital logo is accompanied by a photo the user downloads of themselves with a loved one to remind themselves why their behavior matters.

"Our first step is to continue to go deep in Houston. If you can win Houston, you can win anywhere — it's the most distracted city in the nation," Corry says.

Already expanded to San Antonio, the company hopes to expand to Austin and Dallas this year. Once they hit 500,000 users, online brands are likely to join, making it easier to go nationwide. But until then, Houston has some serious work to do.


Marci Corry (left) started SAFE 2 SAVE in January of 2018. Christina Rudolph is the company's vice president of operations.

Capital Factory will have a branded area in The Cannon when it opens its new facility. Courtesy of The Cannon

A major Texas innovation player with roots in Austin has now staffed its recently announced Houston outpost in partnership with The Cannon Houston. Capital Factory hired two Houstonians to help provide resources for its growing Houston-based portfolio companies.

Kendrick Alridge has been hired as mentor coordinator, and Brittany Barreto, who founded Pheramor and WeHaveChemistry, has been named the venture associate. Aldridge will focus on growing and cultivating relationships with Houston mentors, and Barreto is dedicated to reaching out to Houston startups to gauge their potential for Capital Factory participation.

Hiring these Houstonians and having these new boots on the ground is a key factor for Capital Factory as it grows its Houston presence, says Gordon Daugherty, president at Capital Factory.

"It's important for us to think Texas, but act local," Daugherty says. "What that means is we can't just assume that the way we do things and the things that made us successful in Austin will directly translate to Houston. Houston is a different market. That's one of the things we learned from Dallas."

Acting locally entails listening and learning to what the community wants and engaging with local organizations to contribute value to the market.

"We don't know how or in which ways, but we know Houston will be different from Dallas and Austin," Daugherty says. "In this way, we are advantaged by our two employees being from the Houston area. They're our eyes and ears, for one, but they are also the voice of Houston to us along with other ecosystem players."

While local resources and personnel are both new for Capital Factory, the organization already has over 20 portfolio companies that are based in the Houston area. Now, these companies will have new resources close to home and can also act as Capital Factory representatives in the community, Daugherty says.

One of the biggest benefits Capital Factory is bringing into town is investment opportunities. Daugherty says that he predicts that Capital Factory, which tends to invest many small-sum deals, will quickly become the most active early stage investor in Houston. The organization has already made a few investments in Houston companies — and this isn't even counting the dollars invested by the investment partners.

"Our mission, as it pertains to Houston, is to help the best Houston startups get funded. We will tap into our network of investors across the state and country to try to find the best matches."

If Houston can take any indication from Capital Factory's Dallas location, which opened earlier this year, Capital Factory will be making a big impact on Houston startups.

"In 2018, 25 percent of the startups we onboarded into the accelerator were from outside of Austin," Daugherty tells InnovationMap. "The first half of this year, a third or more have come from Dallas alone. And I expect the same from Houston. Next year, easily more than half of our new accelerator companies will be outside of Austin."

Capital Factory will have branded space in The Cannon when it opens its new facility later this month.