Can't pass this up

Houston tech company aims to make campuses more secure with tracking device

SafePass is a reusable visitor pass for large campuses — corporate, schools, oil and gas, etc. — that need a digital system to protect both the campus and the visitor. Photo via safepassglobal.com

There's an only public service announcement from the 1960s that asks, "It's 10:00 p.m., do you know where your children are?" The idea behind it was to encourage parents to ensure their children's safety, by encouraging them to be home before what was then the youth curfew in several states.

"Do you know where your visitors are right now?" asks the SafePass website, providing an answer: "You do if you have SafePass."

The visitor management system is the brainchild of Ronald Huff, who initially envisioned the system as a hall pass for students. The electronic pass would monitor students in real time, if they left class to go to the nurse or the restroom, meaning adults would be able to find them in the event of an emergency. But as Huff and his business partners proceeded through product development, they realized SafePass had a stronger lure as a system that could manage visitors across several platforms – business, schools, and secure environments.

The system works like this: companies issue a SafePass visitor badge to visitors, contractors or others who are temporarily on the grounds of their facilities. The badge records signal strengths from WiFi routers set up around the facility and tracks where the visitor is in real time.

"Visitors don't know a facility as well as the people who work there every day do," said Huff. "If there's smoke or a fire, they might get lost. So, SafePass helps provide a record of where they are, meaning that people can find them if there's an emergency or an evacuation."

SafePass is also reusable. The electronic badge is designed to be used over and over again, unlike common printed paper badges that visitors stick on.

"We're 100 percent eco-friendly," said Huff.

He and his partners built the demo for the product at the end of 2017 and began shopping it at trade shows. The reaction was immediate, with multiple companies wanting to take on the system. SafePass is about to launch a pilot phase with some Fortune 100 companies, and has plans to expand soon beyond that.

Companies can currently email their floor plans to SafePass, which creates routes within the floor plans, fixing geolocations. Then the signal strength from WiFi routers is digitally mapped within the building using an Android app. This allows the electronic badge to know where a guest is as he or she is traveling throughout a given facility.

"I think most people know that cell phones record almost everything we do," said Huff, explaining that SafePass isn't designed to infringe on personal privacy. "This isn't a Big Brother situation. Above all else, we're concerned about the safety of both people who are visiting a facility and those who work there every day."

Huff said SafePass can also help companies with safety and security compliance. For instance, oil and gas companies are audited by third parties on how secure their facilities are. SafePass' technology helps them not only score higher on an audit, but actually keep their facilities secure.

"A product like ours solves so many different problems," he said.

After nearly two and half years of development, Huff said he's excited about what's to come.

"This is really my baby," he said of the company. "And it's been such a blessing to work with this team of developers and programmers and sales people. We've got a great team and great clients. This is a dream come true."

SafePass has made a splash on the Houston digital innovation scene and was even named one of the most promising startups at the recent Texas Digital Summit.

Houston was home to more than 117,000 skilled freelancers in 2018. Photo courtesy of Common Desk

It's no wonder coworking is taking off in Houston. A new study shows the community of skilled freelance workers in Houston ranks as one of the biggest in Texas — and the United States.

The study, commissioned by freelance marketplace Fiverr and conducted by market research firm Rockbridge Associates, indicates Houston was home to an estimated 117,260 skilled freelancers who generated more than $4.1 billion in revenue in 2018, just slightly less than the financial haul in 2017.

Houston ranked second statewide and 11th in the U.S. among major metro areas for the size of the skilled-freelancer workforce and for the amount of revenue produced, according to the study. Between 2017 and 2018, Houston's pool of skilled freelancers grew 2.5 percent.

From 2011 to 2016, according to the study, Houston's community of skilled freelancers increased 7.7 percent, while revenue declined slightly by 7.8 percent. The Fiverr study places skilled freelancers in three buckets: creative, technical, and professional. These freelancers include attorneys, graphic designers, musicians, software engineers, accountants, and consultants. Any self-employed person whose work requires "specific skills and abilities" was counted in the study; excluded were folks like Uber and Lyft drivers.

"Highly skilled freelancers are an understudied and often overlooked segment of the workforce," Brent Messenger, Fiverr's vice president of public policy and community, says in a release. "By analyzing the data around these … workers, we're able to get a clear picture of the types of jobs they're doing, the amount of revenue they're generating, and the cities in which they're having the most impact."

DFW ranked first in Texas and seventh nationally in the study. In 2018, DFW was home to an estimated 154,617 skilled freelancers who generated nearly $6.38 billion in revenue in 2018, up 5.4 percent from the previous year.

While DFW dominates Texas in terms of freelance population and revenue, Austin boasts the fastest-growing freelance scene.

In 2018, the estimated 67,044 skilled freelancers in the Austin metro area produced nearly $2.7 billion in revenue, up 7.5 percent from 2017, the study says. During the one-year period, Austin's pool of skilled freelancers grew 7.4 percent. The study pegged Austin at No. 18 nationally for the size of the population and revenue of skilled freelancers.

From 2011 to 2016, according to the study, Austin's community of skilled freelancers shot up by 26 percent, with revenue climbing 31 percent. The study identified Austin and Nashville as the country's two fastest-growing hubs for skilled freelancers.

A recent study by commercial real estate website CommercialCafé found that Austin, Dallas, and Houston ranked among the most affordable U.S. cities for freelancers. Meanwhile, personal finance website NerdWallet in 2016 ranked Austin as the best place in the U.S. for freelancers, with Dallas at No. 3, Fort Worth at No. 8, and Houston at No. 15.

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A version of this story originally appeared on CultureMap.com.