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Philanthropic supply chain tool connects Houstonians with resources during coronavirus crisis

Launched in Houston, Umanity's new tool aims to better connect nonprofits with supplies and volunteers amid the COVID-19 crisis. Photos via umanity.io

A Houston startup that has been working in a pilot program capacity with the city of Houston has accelerated the rollout of its platform to help connect and coordinate people's needs to resources in real-time during the coronavirus outbreak.

Umanity, which is a part of the Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator's first cohort, has created a philanthropic supply chain tool that's now available as an app or through desktop. The software can match and map local individual or nonprofit needs to organizations or volunteers, plus provide real-time analytics. During the coronavirus outbreak, they have mobilized its resources connecting supplies with nonprofits and volunteers with safe ways to help organizations that need it most during this crisis.

The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator launched in 2019 to provide technology-driven solutions to Houston's most prevalent challenges. The accelerator is backed by Intel and Microsoft and partnered with the city of Houston and Station Houston.

"Our first cohort focused on transportation, resiliency, and connectivity," says senior director of the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator, Christine Galib. "It was tightening much of the ways in which a vast and expansive city like Houston can come together and feel connected and supported as a city."

These themes are exemplified by Umanity, who is working with several city of Houston officials to direct citizens the resources they need during the crisis, and creating a network of communities to efficiently provide them the resources they need. The centralized platform shows a complete picture of who needs help and who can help all on the same platform while measuring the real-time economic impact of donations and every volunteer hour.

"I started this company because I wanted to transition everyday acts of service into actual data-driven solutions," says Ryan-Alexander Thomas, CEO and founder of Umanity. "My goal is that during the next crisis, for example, hurricane season, if somebody needs something they have access to get it when they need it, not two years later or after the crisis."

The platform has already rolled out in other cities such as Hyattsville, Maryland, to help connect their network of nonprofits with individuals as part of their crisis response as a result of supply shortages due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With the help of their accelerator, Umanity is currently working with a number of the city of Houston's mayor's directors, including education and health leaders to create a broader coalition designed to collaborate and coordinate more efficiently by aggregating information from these sources.

"Having some of the mentors in the accelerator put us in touch with decision-makers in the city has really given us the boost we need to get a chance to show that we can do something good for the people and the community," says Thomas.

Thomas says Umanity is ready to be implemented in a dozen cities in the next few months. Their team is already close to signing partnerships with additional municipalities across the country.

"Our platform is available right now for download and we're growing," says Thomas. "We've tripled the number of organizations in the past week and we are always looking for new nonprofits, churches, and organizations to partner with to help those in need."

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Building Houston

 
 

Contact-free market shopping has come to campus at UH. Photo courtesy of UH

A convenience store on campus at the University of Houston just got a little more, well, convenient — and a whole lot safer.

UH and its dining services partner, Chartwells Higher Education, have partnered with tech company Standard to upgrade the check-out process of convenience shopping. The technology is easy to install and can retrofit any convenience store to a contact-less process.

"Students' tastes change constantly, and we're well equipped to handle that. But their shopping preferences evolve too, and we want to continue providing new and unique shopping experiences that are unexpected on a college campus," says David Riddle, vice president of operations for Chartwells Higher Ed, and district manager for UH System Dining, in a press release. "This is the future of shopping, and with autonomous checkout through Standard, we've made it as easy, safe and convenient as possible for students to come in, get what they need, and go."

The store, called Market Next, is located at UH's Technology Bridge and opened earlier this month. Enabled by cameras and easy-to-use scanners, the store operates 24 hours a day and is also designed for quick service for students on the go. The fastest shopping trip recorded by Standard is 2.3 seconds.

"Market Next is the first retail store in the world to be retrofitted for a 100 percent cashierless, checkout-free experience," says Jordan Fisher, co-founder and CEO of Standard, in the release. "Our platform is the only system on the market proven to retrofit an entire retail experience. Innovative retailers like Chartwells use the AI-powered Standard platform to enable shoppers to grab any product they want and simply walk out, without waiting in line. We are excited to partner with Chartwells to deliver this groundbreaking technology to more locations around the country."

Chartwells is working with Standard to bring more of these stores across the country — as well as more itterations on the UH campus.

"Checkout-free technology is an innovation that will make our students' lives a little easier and a lot safer. This is the new standard for campus safety that is important to students today and for the foreseeable future," says Emily Messa, associate vice chancellor and associate vice president for administration at UH, in the release. "That's why we will plan to convert additional Market stores on campus to this technology in the coming year."

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