Wayt is a new app that makes both sides of a shopping transaction smoother and social distancing compliant. Photo courtesy of Wayt

A 17-year-old high school student from the Houston area stepped up to help his local community, as the coronavirus continues to keep many customers from shopping the way they used to.

The Wayt app, created during the stay-at-home order in March, presents itself as an efficient and easy-to-use platform to streamline shopping during the times of the coronavirus. The app provides businesses and their customers with a platform to communicate making curbside pickup, booking appointments, and joining a virtual line a breeze.

"The platform provides a new set of tools for both the customers and the employees of businesses," says Ethan Saadia, app developer and Wayt creator. "With the use of this app, businesses can streamline the process and remove the hassle of shopping for customers."

The app offers a new way to open businesses by using technology that can manage capacity and keep them connected as many businesses move to curbside pickup. The platform allows customers to receive notifications about their order and tap a button to tell the business they're here, removing the hassle of calling customers to tell them their order is ready.

Wayt provides businesses with the customer name and car information, it even lets them know if the customer wants the order delivered directly to their trunk or other areas of their vehicle. This instant notification system keeps businesses and clients safe allowing them to practice strict social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"The use of this app will be able to remove a lot of the anxiousness that we have currently," says Saadia. "It will allow for a more convenient shopping experience as we continue to deal with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic in all of our lives."

The platform also allows businesses to offer shopping appointments to abide with reduced capacity mandates, letting customers pick when they can come in within the constraints customized by the business. The app also makes standing in line while keeping social distancing recommendations easy by having customers tap a button on the app to get in line.

According to Saadia, a lot of these changes — like curbside pickup and virtual lines — are here to stay.

"From my perspective and experiences from my friends and family," says Saadia. "Curbside pickup and virtual lines are definitely here to stay because even before the pandemic, popular places used to have long lines and that presented many new challenges. The pandemic is just accelerating technological change that will make our lives easier."

Saadia, a serial innovator and app developer, started his first company in 2013 called PCs for Me where he sells DIY computer kits that help kids learn computer science. While he expects to continue that venture and Wayt, Saadia says he's conscious that things can change unexpectedly as he enters his senior year.

"I know we live under a very uncertain time and I don't really know what's going to happen with school a month from now or a year from now," says Saadia. "My plan is to keep taking it day by day working on Wayt to improve the user experience and work on other apps that I have on the pipeline."

Ethan Saadia, a 17-year-old high school student, created an app to improve the user experience of shopping during a pandemic.

OrangeCrate provides a locally-owned option for delivery. Courtesy of OrangeCrate

New locally owned food delivery app rolls into Houston area

orange you glad?

A new delivery app aims to give diners a locally owned alternative to the big national names. Meet OrangeCrate, an app that does things a little differently.

Unlike the national brands, each OrangeCrate affiliate is locally owned and has a specific geographic territory. Franchisee Cody Lee has brought the company to two areas of Houston, Fort Bend County and the greater Memorial area. Lee launched in Fort Bend on June 1 and will bring Memorial online August 24.

"We're just like UberEats or DoorDash, but we're locally owned and locally operated, so I have a lot of control and flexibility versus some of the bigger name brands," Lee tells CultureMap.

That flexibility starts with the cost restaurants pay to use OrangeCrate. While national operators might charge as much as 30 percent to deliver a meal, Lee says OrangeCrate's fees are typically half that, usually between 10 and 15 percent.

Customer fees start at $2.99 and go up depending on how far away from the restaurant they live. Most orders also have a $10 minimum.

In terms of control, Lee trains each driver personally and monitors them when they're working. Unlike other services, drivers may only make one delivery at once, and they're only allowed to make OrangeCrate deliveries while they're on the company's schedule.

"I can chat with them and understand if there's an issue and minimize the impact to the customer," Lee says. "There's a lot of control where I can maintain a lot of variables to ensure the customer experience."

From a user's perspective, the experience will feel familiar. Order and pay via OrangeCrate's website and app. A driver — wearing masks and gloves, of course — will arrive with a bright orange bag containing the food order.

Lee says that so far his biggest challenge has been building awareness of the brand and convincing restaurateurs that he's a viable alternative to the more familiar names. From his perspective, restaurants that promote his company can save money on delivery fees and expand their reach, which is particularly important at a time when some people don't feel comfortable eating in restaurants.

"Most people know the bigger guys," Lee says. "It's important to hear Orange Crate, and that we're a local option; we're also a cheaper option. They get the same or better service for their customers."

In Fort Bend County, Lee has started with a roster of mostly national and regional chains like Chili's, 5 Guys, and Chuy's, but he says he's trying to add as many local restaurants as possible. In the Memorial area, he hopes to launch with between 50 and 60 establishments.

"My focus is on local restaurants and earning their business," Lee says. "I will only be adding local restaurants as we go forward."

So far, Lee has seen enough growth that he's optimistic about the service's future. He's got his eyes on Galveston and The Woodlands as potential market for expansive, with Inner Loop neighborhoods in his long term plans.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

You can order Mala Sichuan to be delivered thanks to newly launched Chowbus. Photo by Isabel Protomartir

Chicago-based food delivery app launches to serve Houstonians

introducing chowbus

A new delivery app wants to make it easier for Houstonians to access the best dishes from Chinatown. Chowbus, a nationwide service that focuses on Asian cuisines, has arrived in Houston.

Among the 80-plus restaurants available at launch, diners may use the app to order dishes from Chinatown favorites such as Mala Sichuan Bistro, Arco Seafood, and Ocean Palace as well as relative newcomers like Chengdu Taste, Chongqing Chicken Pot, and Meet Fresh. Deliveries are available from 11 am to 10 pm to points within the Houston city limits as well as to suburbs such as Pearland, Sugar Land, and Katy.

Customers pay a delivery fee that costs between $2.99 and $4.99 depending on their proximity to the restaurant, but the app does provide a bundling option that allows people to order dishes from multiple restaurants without paying an additional fee. True die-hards can subscribe to Chowbus Plus; for $9.99 per month, all deliveries over $25 are free and deliveries between $15 and $25 cost $1.99.

"We are excited to roll out our service to the Houston community," Chowbus co-founder and CEO Linxin Wen said in a statement. "The city is known for its vibrant culinary scene, which includes tons of great authentic Asian restaurants. We're proud to help Space City discover them."

Beyond helping restaurants expand their reach, Chowbus aims to be a good partner to its restaurants by providing them with analysis of best-selling dishes as well as high quality digital photography. On average, Chowbus claims to boost delivery revenue by 25-percent for restaurants on the platform.

"We're thrilled by the opportunity to partner with Chowbus," said Shanjian Li, the owner of Chongqing Chicken Pot, a Szechuan restaurant in Chinatown's Bellaire Food Street complex. "We hope this will help more Houstonians discover the flavorful dishes that we work so hard to create every day."

Based in Chicago, Chowbus has been a growth spurt. The platform now offers delivery from more than 3,000 restaurants in over 20 cities across North America such as Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, and Boston.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

A Houston software startup has created a communication tool and is allowing free access amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Getty Images

Houston tech startup offers free survey app to help companies manage COVID-19 response

software solutions

Keeping employees and employers connected is crucial during a crisis. A Houston-based software startup recognizes the importance of communication during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing its digital form and surveys app for free for six months.

Unvired Inc. recently unveiled its Digital Forms app to help employees voice their concerns and keep businesses with their finger on the pulse of employee morale. The survey is customizable for each business and contains questions with the most important factors such as employee health and well being, communication, confidence, and leadership.

"Digital Forms fits in with a whole new paradigm in the software world," says CEO Alok Pant. "It allows a business user to make their own specialized applications fast and easy with no coding necessary."

The low-code platform has a drag-and-drop form building feature to instantly deploy surveys, can store data in the Unvired Cloud, and instantly generate reports for insights in the administration portal.

The startup already has customers using it for their COVID-19 response, with users choosing to use it as a sort of information hub with frequently asked questions along with questions regarding employee and health wellbeing. While other companies use for surveying the number of masks and hand sanitizer supplies available.

The forms app, already in the works months before the virus changed the scope of daily life, will be officially launched in July.

"Digital Forms inadvertently became the perfect tool to easily build forms and create workflows during the time of the coronavirus pandemic," says Pant. "We wanted to help our community in any small way we can, so we saw offering this app for free as a great opportunity to help our business community."

Unvired, which is based out of Station Houston, has nationwide and international clients in a variety of different industries. According to Pant, Unvired's platform for surveys and customizable forms was first born out of their own customer's need for an app with form digitization capabilities.

"Many of our customers, especially in the oil field use many paper forms as part of their process," says Plant. "Our app is a very form-centric application that can serve our customers with automated digitization of forms, making it easier for employees to reduce manual data entry, enable real-time decision making, and lower operational costs."

This launch is only part of Unvired's new line of products. The startup is also releasing Chyme Bots, a digital communications solution that can be tailored to a specific business to answer frequently asked questions quickly and remotely.

"Many businesses will have to start to invest in digital in the near future," says Pant. "If they want to get out of the slump the pandemic has landed many businesses, digitization along with digital applications will be key to growth and efficiency."

Trivie, which gamifies corporate training, has launched a new way for employees to connect with remote learning amid the pandemic. Photo via Trivie.com

Houston founder's corporate training app shifts to enhance remote learning for employees

there's an app for that

How much of corporate training do employees actually remember? Texas-based Trivie, a training reinforcement app, sought to not only answer that question, but change the results entirely. Using adaptive learning and gamification, the Trivie app is reshaping online learning while the world adapts to remote working in a global pandemic.

According to Gallup Panel data, 62 percent of Americans currently say they have worked from home during the coronavirus pandemic. In a connected yet socially distanced environment, corporations are choosing to automate remote learning and disseminate critical COVID-19 guidelines with the help of Trivie.

One of Trivie's founders, Leland Putterman, who is based in Houston, first had the idea for a consumer-facing trivia game 18 years ago. When the app rolled out in 2013, it garnered more than three million downloads. Like anything in technology, App Store games were diversifying. Competing applications were deviating into in-app purchases — a move Putterman's app hadn't planned.

Rather than sink under the pressures of an unfit revenue model, the founders pivoted to a more fruitful investment in an untapped space: corporate training. After receiving multiple emails from users asking if developers had ever thought of using the app for company training, Putterman jumped into research on information retention and learned that trivia vastly benefits human memory.

With a new business plan and research backed by neuroscientists, the Trivie app launched in 2016. Reaching a broad list of organizations with five to over 40,000 users, Trivie has generated the praise and trust of business goliaths such as Subway, Unilever, and Anheuser-Busch. The app has been used to roll out onboarding, marketing training, safety protocols, sales information, remote learning and more.

"The vast majority of companies and organizations do nothing after a training event," he says, adding that, according to Trivie's own research, the app has found 50 to 75 percent of people had forgotten workplace education within a month. "It makes training one of the least effective business processes out there because everybody knows people don't remember their training unless it gets reinforced."

What if the secret to remembering is forgetting? Studies have shown that re-learning information over time strengthens memory recall.

"The way our solution works is very unique in that we want you to forget so you can re-remember again. The process of re-remembering is what pushes things into durable memory," explains Putterman.

When a company sets up a training on the Trivie app, the program serves each employee personalized training refreshers over time that are balanced with the retention levels of each unique learner. Using adaptive learning, the app prompts employees to remember previous facts until they master the subject.

"The AI [artificial intelligence] on the backend predicts when you're going to forget again, and it automates the whole thing," Putterman says.

In a Trivie control group, half of the test subjects used Trivie and half received basic employee training. Putterman stated the Trivie users typically have 95 percent retention after a month while non-Trivie users show less than 60 percent retention.

Employers can see the results of each Trivie assessment, pinpointed down to individual questions — a feature that is especially crucial for compliance and safety protocol. One of Trivie's university clients published a training on Title IX, where students passed yet 65 percent missed the question: "Whose responsibility is it to gain consent during a sexual encounter?"

When the university received the results, "they were able to see down to that level of detail—and that knowledge gap is pretty darn important," explains Putterman.

"Training is important but nowadays it's mission-critical," he says.

While Trivie already had many clients with needs for safety training, COVID-19 has brought new compliance guidelines to the forefront of every industry. Currently, Trivie has made the CDC's coronavirus guidelines available to all of its clients for no additional charge to be used across their entire employment bases.

Putterman acknowledges the pitfalls of sending out a corporate memo only to hear crickets.

"In a Trivie platform you would send a video, PDF, or word document via Trivie. You'd know people opened it up and after they're required to take a quiz so you know they understand what was in the message," Putterman explains.

An internal discussion board also allows company employees to discuss why the communication is essential to the organization. Another prominent feature of the app is a customizable survey.

"You know as well as I do that there's a ton of anxiety out there [about the coronavirus]. Wouldn't it be nice to push out a survey and then have a discussion around how people are dealing with it?" he questions.

With most of America's workforce working from home, Putterman expressed that it's common for employees to feel disconnected.

"The only way to maintain that company culture and close communication with confidence is to use something like Trivie," he says. "There's no feedback loop right now. The only way to bridge that gap is to have something like Trivie that's the glue."

Amanda Ducach quickly upgraded her app, SocialMama, to help increase virtual access to health care professionals for moms stuck inside during the COVID-19 crisis. Photo courtesy of SocialMama

Houston startup upgrades tech to better serve moms at home during COVID-19

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 29

With much of society working from home, a huge burden has been placed on parents who are juggling their careers and homeschooling their children for the rest of the academic year. In many situations, the bulk of this responsibility has weighed heavy on moms, and a Houston momtrepreneur knew how to help them out.

Amanda Ducach, founder and CEO of SocialMama, created her app to link up moms for friendship and mentorship, and she was planning on expanding the app to add in experts and professionals into the mix this summer. However, when COVID-19 hit, she realized this was something moms needed ASAP.

"We learned quickly that moms' behaviors were drastically changing throughout this process of the pandemic, but also that over a million babies were going to be born in isolation," Ducach says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "That really changes the walk around maternal health."

The experts that are now on the app include mental health professionals, OBGYN doctors, and more. They are able to interface with users in a casual way to weigh in on topics of concern with their expertise. While Ducach and her team worked quickly to get the first version of the new feature online, she says she is working on technological improvements. However, she has already received great feedback from users and the experts.

While working in isolation and caring for her family at the same time, Ducach has been adjusting to this new normal just as everyone else. She said on the podcast that she hopes a lesson companies learn from this experience is how work-life balance and productivity aren't mutually exclusive — and that they bring this realization into the future.

"A lot of the times we don't do a good job as a society understanding that moms are just as good of workers in a company as non-moms, but they need some level of flexibility. It's just the reality," Ducach says. "You can't be a parent and never leave at 3 o'clock to go bring your kid to a baseball game. We have to support parents who work."

Ducach shares more of her growth plans in store for SocialMama, fundraising in the time of COVID-19 and federal relief woes, and more on the podcast episode. Listen to the full episode below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Ventilator designed by Rice University team gets FDA approval

in the bag

A ventilator that was designed by a team at Rice University has received Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ApolloBVM was worked on March by students at Rice's Brown School of Engineering's Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, or OEDK. The open-source plans were shared online so that those in need could have access to the life-saving technology. Since its upload, the ApolloBVM design has been downloaded by almost 3,000 registered participants in 115 countries.

"The COVID-19 pandemic pushed staff, students and clinical partners to complete a novel design for the ApolloBVM in the weeks following the initial local cases," says Maria Oden, a teaching professor of bioengineering at Rice and director of the OEDK, in the press release. "We are thrilled that the device has received FDA Emergency Use Authorization."

While development began in 2018 with a Houston emergency physician, Rohith Malya, Houston manufacturer Stewart & Stevenson Healthcare Technologies LLC, a subsidiary of Kirby Corporation that licensed ApolloBVM in April, has worked with the team to further manufacture the device into what it is today.

An enhanced version of the bag valve mask-based ventilator designed by Rice University engineers has won federal approval as an emergency resuscitator for use during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of Stewart & Stevenson

The Rice team worked out of OEDK throughout the spring and Stewart & Stevenson joined to support the effort along with manufacturing plants in Oklahoma City and Houston.

"The FDA authorization represents an important milestone achievement for the Apollo ABVM program," says Joe Reniers, president of Kirby Distribution and Services, in the release. "We can now commence manufacturing and distribution of this low-cost device to the front lines, providing health care professionals with a sturdy and portable ventilation device for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic."

Reniers continues, "It is a testimony to the flexibility of our people and our manufacturing facilities that we are able to readily utilize operations to support COVID-19 related need."

Nonprofit arts event in Houston pivots to virtual experience

the show must go on

As summer rolls on and Houston adapts to the new normal of the COVID-19 pandemic, myriad arts organizations are pivoting, morphing their in-person events into virtual experiences.

One such event is the 49-year-old, annual Bayou City Arts Festival, which has just announced that it has reimagined its outdoor event originally scheduled for October 10-11 this year. Due to the cancelation of the event because of coronavirus concerns, all 2020 festival tickets will be honored at Bayou City Art Festival events in 2021, according to organizers.

In place of an in-person festival in 2020, a Bayou City Art Virtual Experience will take place the week of October 5-11. The event will feature an art auction, virtual performances, art projects for kids with Bayou City Art Festival nonprofit partners, creative activities with Bayou City Art Festival sponsors and more, according to a press release.

"The decision to convert our Bayou City Art Festival Downtown to a virtual experience was difficult, but the health and safety of our community and our festival family is our top priority," says Kelly Batterson, executive director of the Art Colony Association.

Organizers have also announced that a fundraising campaign dubbed Save Our Art - One Passion. One Purpose. One Community, in partnership with the City of Houston to support the arts and the festival's local nonprofit partners.

Interested parties can donate by sending a text SaveOurArt to 243725, donating via our website and Facebook page, or by participating in the many upcoming fundraising events.

Festival fans can stay up to date via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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This article originally appeared on CultureMap.