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.

Houston's moving on up in the worlds of economics and startup activity. Photo by Tim Leviston/Getty Images

The number four appears to be a sign of good fortune for Houston.

A new ranking from Business Facilities magazine places Bayou City at No. 4 for economic growth potential among large metro areas and at No. 4 for the country's best startup ecosystems.

Regarding the No. 4 ranking for economic potential, Susan Davenport, senior vice president of economic development for the Greater Houston Partnership, says Houston's industrial diversity has helped the region weather downturns in certain economic sectors "and now has us on a solid growth trajectory."

"The region's steady population increases, coupled with our relatively low costs of living and doing business, bode well for our economic growth potential reflected in this ranking," Davenport says.

Houston's status as the one of the top locations for Fortune 1000 headquarters in the U.S. elevates the region's position as a hub where both large and small companies can prosper, she adds.

Houston appeared at No. 1 in Business Facilities' 2018 ranking of the top large metros for economic growth potential. Representatives of Business Facilities couldn't be reached to explain why Houston dropped three places from 2018 to 2019.

Last year, the magazine pointed out that Houston's economy extends far beyond its standing as the Energy Capital of the World.

"The nation's fourth-largest city has a dynamic, diversified economy that is brimming with innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship," said the magazine, citing advantages such as Houston's strong manufacturing base, enormous healthcare presence, and storied aerospace legacy.

The magazine went on to hail Houston's "distinctly favorable business climate."

"The region benefits from a skilled workforce, world-class infrastructure and transportation system, and a pro-business environment that stimulates rather than stifles business growth," Business Facilities noted.

As for the No. 4 ranking in this year's Business Facilities startup category, Davenport says this indicates the recent work of the Houston Exponential initiative to foster the local startup environment is paying off.

Houston Exponential, established in 2017, seeks to make Houston a top 10 innovation ecosystem, generate $2 billion in venture capital annually, and create 10,000 new tech jobs a year by 2022.

Last October, Houston Exponential announced it had collected $25 million for its first venture capital fund. Making financial commitments to the fund were Insperity, Chevron, Shell, Quanta Services, Westlake Chemical, The Plank Cos., PROS, H-E-B, and Camden Property Trust.

"Factor in the demand being satisfied by a number of new incubators and accelerators, plus the four-mile Innovation Corridor running through the heart of the city and anchored by The Ion, and we're seeing momentum on a scale like never before," Davenport says.

In Houston's Midtown, Rice University is transforming the historic Sears building into The Ion, which will serve as an innovation hub designed to cultivate collaboration among startups, corporations, universities, and other elements of the local business community. It's the first development in Houston's evolving innovation district.

"The Midtown innovation district is an embodiment of our shared community vision to give professionals and families a means of seizing opportunity as Houston continues to grow as a leading city in technology," says Matt Thibodeaux, executive director of Midtown Houston.

Here is Business Facilities' 2019 list of the top 10 places for economic growth potential among large U.S. metros:

  1. Atlanta
  2. San Antonio
  3. Phoenix
  4. Houston
  5. Orlando, Florida
  6. Austin
  7. Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina
  8. Las Vegas
  9. Albuquerque, New Mexico
  10. Kansas City, Missouri

Here is Business Facilities' 2019 list of the 10 places with the best startup ecosystems in the country:

  1. Austin
  2. Denver
  3. New York City
  4. Houston
  5. San Jose, California
  6. Orlando, Florida
  7. Nashville, Tennessee
  8. Atlanta
  9. Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina
  10. Salt Lake City