Jeff Bezos launches $2 billion fund to finance preschools and help homeless families

In a tweet this morning, Amazon founder (and the world’s richest man) Jeff Bezos announced that he and his wife were creating a $2 billion fund to finance a network of nonprofit preschools and donate funds to organizations helping homeless families. “The Day 1 Families Fund will issue annual leadership awards to organizations and civic […]

In a tweet this morning, Amazon founder (and the world’s richest man) Jeff Bezos announced that he and his wife were creating a $2 billion fund to finance a network of nonprofit preschools and donate funds to organizations helping homeless families.

“The Day 1 Families Fund will issue annual leadership awards to organizations and civic groups doing compassionate, needle moving work to provide shelter and hunger support to address the immediate needs of young families,” Bezos writes in a statement.

There’s also a Day 1 Academies Fund that will launch a network of free, Montessori-inspired schools in low-income neighborhoods.

Bezos said the schools will employ the “same set of principles that have driven Amazon .” Which, for Bezos, means an intense focus on the customer.

The funds are called the “Day 1” funds because they align with Bezos’ stated philosophy of “maintaining a Day 1 mentality.”

Starting a network of free schools for underprivileged children and giving out money to help organizations that are working to alleviate the needs of the nation’s homeless are inarguably good things, but it’s unclear whether these individual steps can work to address more systemic problems that underlie problems of homelessness and a lack of educational opportunity that exists more broadly in the country.

Perhaps Bezos was inspired to battle the nation’s homeless plight when he saw this report on Vickie Shannon Allen, an Amazon employee who became homeless after a workplace accident cost her her job.

It’s also a bit rich to see Bezos tackle the issue of homelessness after his company was the mustache twirling arch nemesis of a bill in Seattle that would have created a tax to finance homeless shelters and low-income housing.

Fortune has more on Amazon’s work to kill the measure:

Amazon opposed the tax, originally floated at $500 a year for each of its Seattle employees. To signal its displeasure, the company halted construction on a new tower, and suggested it might sublet 722,000 square feet it had just leased in a signature downtown building. When the council approved a reduced $275 tax, Amazon restarted construction on the tower. But it also joined Starbucks and other local employers to fund a group, No Tax on Jobs, that raised over $300,000 to pay for signature gatherers for a referendum to repeal the head tax. In a statement after the vote, Amazon vice president Drew Herdener said, “Today’s vote by the Seattle City Council to repeal the tax on job creation is the right decision for the region’s economic prosperity.”

With the new fund, Bezos joins a long line of incredibly mega-rich people (cf. Chan-Zuckerberg and Gates Foundations… and Warren Buffett) who are taking it upon themselves to fund programs for social good.

It’s part of philanthropy’s long history of ignoring broader structural issues as a way for billionaires to treat their contributions as a gift rather than an obligation.

Here’s Bezos’ tweet announcing the new funds.

Jeff Bezos launches $2 billion fund to finance preschools and help homeless families

In a tweet this morning, Amazon founder (and the world’s richest man) Jeff Bezos announced that he and his wife were creating a $2 billion fund to finance a network of nonprofit preschools and donate funds to organizations helping homeless families. “The Day 1 Families Fund will issue annual leadership awards to organizations and civic […]

In a tweet this morning, Amazon founder (and the world’s richest man) Jeff Bezos announced that he and his wife were creating a $2 billion fund to finance a network of nonprofit preschools and donate funds to organizations helping homeless families.

“The Day 1 Families Fund will issue annual leadership awards to organizations and civic groups doing compassionate, needle moving work to provide shelter and hunger support to address the immediate needs of young families,” Bezos writes in a statement.

There’s also a Day 1 Academies Fund that will launch a network of free, Montessori-inspired schools in low-income neighborhoods.

Bezos said the schools will employ the “same set of principles that have driven Amazon .” Which, for Bezos, means an intense focus on the customer.

The funds are called the “Day 1” funds because they align with Bezos’ stated philosophy of “maintaining a Day 1 mentality.”

Starting a network of free schools for underprivileged children and giving out money to help organizations that are working to alleviate the needs of the nation’s homeless are inarguably good things, but it’s unclear whether these individual steps can work to address more systemic problems that underlie problems of homelessness and a lack of educational opportunity that exists more broadly in the country.

Perhaps Bezos was inspired to battle the nation’s homeless plight when he saw this report on Vickie Shannon Allen, an Amazon employee who became homeless after a workplace accident cost her her job.

It’s also a bit rich to see Bezos tackle the issue of homelessness after his company was the mustache twirling arch nemesis of a bill in Seattle that would have created a tax to finance homeless shelters and low-income housing.

Fortune has more on Amazon’s work to kill the measure:

Amazon opposed the tax, originally floated at $500 a year for each of its Seattle employees. To signal its displeasure, the company halted construction on a new tower, and suggested it might sublet 722,000 square feet it had just leased in a signature downtown building. When the council approved a reduced $275 tax, Amazon restarted construction on the tower. But it also joined Starbucks and other local employers to fund a group, No Tax on Jobs, that raised over $300,000 to pay for signature gatherers for a referendum to repeal the head tax. In a statement after the vote, Amazon vice president Drew Herdener said, “Today’s vote by the Seattle City Council to repeal the tax on job creation is the right decision for the region’s economic prosperity.”

With the new fund, Bezos joins a long line of incredibly mega-rich people (cf. Chan-Zuckerberg and Gates Foundations… and Warren Buffett) who are taking it upon themselves to fund programs for social good.

It’s part of philanthropy’s long history of ignoring broader structural issues as a way for billionaires to treat their contributions as a gift rather than an obligation.

Here’s Bezos’ tweet announcing the new funds.

Ready, Set, Raise is a new accelerator built for women by women

Women in tech are not only significantly under-funded by venture capitalists, but they also often lack access to the early-stage support granted to their male counterparts. To enroll in a startup accelerator like Y Combinator, for example, its expected founders relocate to the Bay Area for three months. Women, who are more often caregivers, might […]

Women in tech are not only significantly under-funded by venture capitalists, but they also often lack access to the early-stage support granted to their male counterparts.

To enroll in a startup accelerator like Y Combinator, for example, its expected founders relocate to the Bay Area for three months. Women, who are more often caregivers, might not be able to do that, and even if they can, the program may not cater to their specific needs.

Female Founders Alliance (FFA), a relatively new network of female startup founders, has built a free, non-dilutive 5-week accelerator for women by women. Called ‘Ready, Set, Raise,’ its goal is to help more female-founded startups raise VC through workshops, 1-on-1 coaching, legal clinics, communications and speech coaching and more. The accelerator, sponsored by Trilogy Equity Partners, kicked off at the end of August and will culminate with a private demo day with VCs in Seattle on September 27th. 

“I don’t know many women who can uproot their families for three months to go live in another city,” FFA founder Leslie Feinzaig told TechCrunch. “When I was working on my company, I wanted to apply to Y Combinator but I was a new mom, it was 100% a non-starter.”

Feinzaig knows the trials and tribulations of raising VC as a female entrepreneur all too well. As the founder of an edtech startup called Venture Kits, she tried, unsuccessfully, to procure venture backing. That struggle is why she started FFA, which began as a Facebook group to connect female founders in the Seattle area but has expanded across North America.

The accelerator is designed to allow founders to tune into the programming remotely. Participants are only required to be on-site in Seattle, where FFA is based, for one week, during which the organization is providing free housing and childcare.

FFA’s accelerator is among a new class of efforts created for women in tech. All Raise’s Founders For Change initiative, for example, and new female-focused funds, like Sarah Kunst’s Cleo Capital, are all working to close the gender funding gap.

“I know it seems to people like there’s a lot happening around female founders and diverse founders, but in the context of the size and scale of that gender gap, we are barely getting started,” Feinzaig said. “We need all the accelerators. We need hundreds of funds. We are nowhere close to making a real dent in equal leadership.”

Today, FFA is announcing their inaugural class of startups, eight in total. Here’s a closer look at the group:

  • Chanlogic: Based in Seattle, the SaaS startup provides a product for e-commerce channel managers.
  • Esq.Me Inc.: A Portland-based document marketplace for lawyers created by lawyers.
  • Future Sight AR: A Houston-based AR product for engineering, procurement and construction companies.
  • geeRemit: Based in Raleigh, the startup leverages the blockchain to power remittances to Africa.
  • Magic AI: A Seattle-based AI startup for livestock care.
  • MoxieReader: Based in New York, an edtech startup focused on improving child literacy through tech.
  • Pandere Shoes: Based in Anchorage, the startup is creating expandable shoes.
  • Zeta Help: A San Francisco-based financial support platform for millennial couples.

 

Branch pairs up with TUNE to create a supersized marketing and measurement platform

Branch announced today that it has acquired TUNE‘s attribution analytics team and business, a part of the SaaS platform that focuses on optimizing and accurately attributing ad spend. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.  TUNE, a Seattle-based startup founded in 2009, helps ad platforms tie marketing investments to measurable outcomes.  Backed by Android co-founder […]

Branch announced today that it has acquired TUNE‘s attribution analytics team and business, a part of the SaaS platform that focuses on optimizing and accurately attributing ad spend. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. 

TUNE, a Seattle-based startup founded in 2009, helps ad platforms tie marketing investments to measurable outcomes. 

Backed by Android co-founder Andy Rubin’s Playground Ventures, Branch creates links between websites and mobile apps, called deep links. The deal will help the company, which supports 40,000 apps with roughly 3 billion monthly users, expand its portfolio of linking and attribution analytics tools to become the ultimate marketing and measurement platform for businesses.

“TUNE has always been a steward of Branch’s core values, especially when it comes to putting user experience and privacy first,” Branch CEO Alex Austin said in a statement. “Combining TUNE’s years of learning with Branch’s innovation, raw product execution, and key strategic partnerships is the beginning of a new era of mobile marketing. It’s going to be an incredible ride.”

Formerly known as HasOffers, TUNE was founded by twin brothers Lucas and Lee Brown. Peter Hamilton joined the startup in 2012 and has served as the CEO since.

The performance marketing company completed a $9.4 million Series A investment in 2013 led by Accel, followed by a $27 million Series B in 2015 led by ICON Ventures. For its part, Branch is in the process of raising a fresh round of venture capital funding at a unicorn valuation. 

 

Amazon opens its largest Amazon Go convenience store yet

Amazon is picking up the pace when it comes to unveiling its line of “stores of the future,” today opening its second cashier-less Amazon Go convenience store in the last week. More Amazon Go locations are expected to land in other cities soon, though the company has yet to confirm any plans.

Amazon is picking up the pace when it comes to unveiling its line of “stores of the future,” today opening its second cashier-less Amazon Go convenience store in the last week. More Amazon Go locations are expected to land in other cities soon, though the company has yet to confirm any plans.

The latest location is its third overall and third in Seattle, where it’s headquartered. The 2,100 square feet store sits on the corner of Boren Ave. and Thomas St. and is its largest yet. The first iteration of the Amazon Go store was 1,800 square feet; it opened its doors to the public in a surprise opening in December 2016. The second, measuring 1,450 square feet, began doing business last Monday.

In case you’re unfamiliar, Amazon Go stores cut out the check-out process by charging customers for what the pick up in-store using the Amazon Go app. The company relies on cameras, which are mounted all over the stores, and weight sensors on the shelves to track what shoppers are picking up and to make sure they are charged correctly.

The newest store will have breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack options for sale, a stocked selection of foods, including bread, milk and locally made chocolates, as well as Amazon Meal Kits, a product the company launched in 2017 to go head-to-head with Blue Apron and other meal kit delivery services.

Women-only co-working space The Wing is launching an app to help its members stay connected

The Wing is bringing the physical world it’s created for professional women through its co-working spaces to the digital world, with the launch of a social networking app, slated to become available later this month.

The co-working company created the app to connect its members and keep them up to date on The Wing’s programming. For now, the app will only be available to paying Wing members.

The Wing is bringing the physical world it’s created for professional women to the digital world with the launch of a social networking app, slated to become available later this month.

The co-working company created the app to connect its members and keep them up to date on The Wing’s programming. For now, the app will only be available to paying Wing members.

“Our team has been hard at work on ways for members to carry the connections they make with them wherever they go,” The Wing co-founder and CEO Audrey Gelman told TechCrunch. “Through the app, members will have access to features that make The Wing experience even more valuable and efficient and will have access to thousands of incredible women at their fingertips.”

Founded in 2016, The Wing provides co-working and community space to women. It’s raised $40 million in venture capital backing from top-tier investors like Kleiner Perkins and NEA. WeWork has also noticed the value in The Wing’s female-first model; the co-working behemoth led its $32 million Series B last November. As it stands, the company has just four locations in two states: New York and Washington, DC. A San Francisco location is expected this October, and West Hollywood, London, Toronto, Seattle and Chicago locations are all in the pipeline.

To enjoy The Wing’s many perks—brass & millennial pink decor, shelves of color-coordinated books and exclusive access to events featuring Hillary Clinton or New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, for example—it’s not cheap. Wing members pay $215 per month for access to a single location. But compare that to the price of a desk at a San Francisco WeWork, about $400, and it’s not so bad.

The Wing also provides lactation rooms, “beauty rooms,” a library, food and drinks, and more.

In addition to being founded by two women, Gelman and Lauren Kassan, the company also boasts an all-female staffa rarity for a company backed by venture capitalists. That includes Lina Dorkhman, who The Wing hired six months ago to lead development on the app. She’d spent the last 3.5 years at BlackRock as an associate.

“I was actually a member first and when I saw that they were hiring a product manager I thought it was a perfect fit,” Dorkhman told me.

She says The Wing wanted to create a product that recognized women as not only professionals, or parents or friends or siblings, but all of those things.

“With products like Linkedin, there is this separation of this is my personal self and my professional self,” Dorkhman said. “What we see at The Wing is there isn’t necessarily a separation of your personal self and your professional self. We want to acknowledge that—that is the future of work. You bring your whole self to work.”

The idea for the app stemmed from member feedback, which asked that the company provide more digital components.

“We hear from our members that there is this really special feeling of entering The Wing,” Dorkhman added. “That feeling that you get in the physical space is something we really wanted to translate into the product.”

Porter Road was to herd the meat industry in a new direction

Down a two lane road on the outskirts of Princeton, Ky., next to a cemetery and past the Light of Truth Church is the Porter Road Butcher Meat Co. facility — a staging ground for what the Nashville-based startup Porter Road hopes will be a revolution in the American meatpacking industry. For the company’s co-founders, […]

Down a two lane road on the outskirts of Princeton, Ky., next to a cemetery and past the Light of Truth Church is the Porter Road Butcher Meat Co. facility — a staging ground for what the Nashville-based startup Porter Road hopes will be a revolution in the American meatpacking industry.

For the company’s co-founders, James Peisker and Chris Carter, the refashioning of the meat business in America is the next step in a nearly decade-long journey since the former chefs first met working in the restaurant of Nashville’s historic Hermitage Hotel. 

The two men started their butcher business, selling locally sourced meat from the East Nashville Farmer’s Market in 2010 and eventually moved to a storefront in the same neighborhood a year later.

“We ended up going around and raising funds and opened the brick and mortar shop in 2011,” Peisker said. “Chris worked a job at a friend of ours’ deli in the morning and I worked at a restaurant at night.”

But from the beginning the two men had bigger ambitions, and as the business became increasingly successful, they began thinking about how to bring their approach to the meat industry to the entire country.

“What we see the future is is being able to reach as many people as we can in the country and offer them the best quality most sustainably raised products,” said Carter in an interview. 

As they began building the business in earnest, the two men realized that there was a critical part of the process over which they had no control — the meat processing itself.

“I would love to be Omaha Steaks,” said Carter. “But I would love to bring change to the system that Omaha Steaks buys into.” To do that meant not just sourcing from sustainable farms, but making sure that their slaughterhouse and processing facility was operating to standards that the two co-founders set for themselves.

“They put up the curtain to hide what’s happening,” said Peisker of the meat industry — although the dirty side of industrial animal husbandry is well known. “99% of the meat is coming from these really disgusting places where the animals are near death and kept alive with injections… Tyson can say they get their chickens from family farm but] they sell the farmers feed, and chicks… small family farms are raising these animals but are doing it in a way that harms the animal. And our beef is born in the same matter. It’s how they spend the end of their lives. They’re force fed chickenshit, chicken feathers, scrap and harvested in a manner that’s doing 60,000 head a day.”

Peisker and Carter envision a different path, one that’s decentralizing the commodity meat industry. Instead of industrial farms producing thousands of head, smaller sustainable farms could raise livestock in the hundreds. Those sustainably raised animals could then be sent to local processing plants and slaughtered in facilities that are better for workers and (more) humane for animals.

“One of the first things we did was to take away the electric prod sticks and cattle paddles,” said Peisker. Ultimately the men recognize that there’s only so much that can be done to make the industry operate more efficiently and humanely, but every little bit helps.

The alternative is continuing to operate at scales that are toxic for the entire country. For example, earlier this month a jury in North Carolina awarded residents near a Smithfield Farms hog farm $470 million to address their complaints about the stench and the industrial pollution coming from the farm.

In all, industrial animal farms operated by just four companies produce 80% of the meat U.S. consumers eat. And the environmental impact of these industrial farms is well understood.

For Ryan Darnell, a managing partner of Max Ventures (and childhood friend of Carter’s), the Porter Road business makes good business sense beyond its social and environmental benefits.

“In this category there’s roughly $55 billion of revenue tied up in the traditional supply chain,” Darnell wrote in an email. “Porter Road isn’t just selling meat online. They are rearchitecting the back-end system to eliminate a lot of the things we don’t like (and aren’t good for us). They are building an entirely new meat company from the ground up.”

Companies like CrowdCow and ButcherBox offer organic meat for sale, but Darnell said that the vertical integration that Porter Road has built makes it a fundamentally different company from those startups.

“Most of the competitors in this space have a digital storefront (for distribution) and buy out of the existing supply chain. A few will try to backwards integrate, but it’s difficult to learn how to accurately evaluate farmers and implement best practices in a processing facility,” Darnell wrote.

All of this attention to detail in the process is also reflected in the price of Porter Road’s meats (they aren’t cheap). But the notion for Peisker is that people can eat fewer, higher quality meat meals with Porter Road products (which may also be better for the environment too).

You should eat less meat but better meat,” said Peisker. “There’s a movement across the country of people who want flavor back in their food…. And people who want to make a choice with their dollar about what they buy.”

Porter Road’s evolution — which culminated in the company launching an online presence in 2017 — is coming at a time when shifting consumption patterns are changing the ways Americans shop and eat.

The Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods has changed the organic market as the once-mighty grocery chain becomes more incorporated into the Seattle e-commerce giant’s commercial operations. That’s opened the doors for direct to consumer competitors to come in — including companies like Thrive Market, Crowd Cow and Porter Road.

“Whole Foods, post-Amazon is just another grocery store now,” said Peisker. 

And Americans continue to love organic foods. Sales of organic food products hit a record $45.2 billion in 2017, according to the Organic Trade Association. While growth slowed to 6.7% from 9% in 2016, the overall numbers are still surpassing the anemic 1% growth of the U.S. food business overall, according to the report.

Porter Road’s founders say those numbers are reflected in its own business. “We get busier every day,” said Carter. Over the summer the company was averaging 60 boxes shipped per-day with roughly 5-8 pounds of meat in a box.

With the boost from the $3.7 million in venture funding it received earlier in the year backed by investors including Max Ventures, Slow Ventures, BoxGroup, Tribeca Venture Partners, Collaborative Fund, and Great Oaks VC, Porter Road is hoping to expand its operations.

“Our plan is to build,” Carter said. “We’ve built this amazing model in this location. We have a year or two before we see ourselves busting at the seams here. And we will move to communities across the country.”

The co-founders of Porter Road see opportunities to open a similar processing facility to the one already operating in Princeton — and ideally will be able to build a network of abattoirs around the country. “If we can make a better life for the animals that go into our food system and better food for consumers why wouldn’t we do it?” said Peisker. 

RideAlong is helping police officers de-escalate 911 calls with data designed for the field

RideAlong keeps people in mind, and that’s a good thing. The company, founded by Meredith Hitchcock (COO) and Katherine Nammacher (CEO), aims to make streets safer, not with expansive surveillance systems or high-tech weaponry but with simple software focused on the people being policed. That distinction sounds small, but it’s surprisingly revelatory. Tech so oftens […]

RideAlong keeps people in mind, and that’s a good thing. The company, founded by Meredith Hitchcock (COO) and Katherine Nammacher (CEO), aims to make streets safer, not with expansive surveillance systems or high-tech weaponry but with simple software focused on the people being policed. That distinction sounds small, but it’s surprisingly revelatory. Tech so oftens forgets the people that it’s ostensibly trying to serve, but with RideAlong they’re front and center.

“The thing about law enforcement is they are interacting with individuals who have been failed by the rest of society and social support networks,” Nammacher told TechCrunch in an interview. “We want to help create a dialogue toward a more perfect future for people who are having some really rough things happen to them. Police officers also want that future.”

Ridealong is specifically focused on serving populations that have frequent interactions with law enforcement. Those individuals are often affected by complex forces that require special care — particularly chemical dependence, mental illness and homelessness.

“I think it is universally understood if someone has a severe mental illness… putting them through the criminal justice system and housing them in a jail is not the right thing to do,” Nammacher said. For RideAlong, the question is how to help those individuals obtain long-term support from a system that isn’t really designed to adequately serve them.

Made for field work, RideAlong is a mobile responsive web app that presents relevant information on individuals who frequently use emergency services. It collects data that might otherwise only live in an officer’s personal notebook or a police report, presenting it on a call so that officers can use it to determine if an individual is in crisis and if they are, the best way to de-escalate their situation and provide support. With a simple interface and a no-frills design, RideAlong works everywhere from a precinct laptop to a smartphone in the field to a patrol car’s dash computer.

Nammacher explains that any police officer could easily think of the five people they interact with most often, recalling key details about them like their dog’s name and whether they are close to a known family member. That information is very valuable for responding to a crisis but it often isn’t accessible when it needs to be.

“They’ve come up with some really smart manual workarounds for how to deal with that,” Nammacher says, but it isn’t always enough. That real-time information gap is where RideAlong comes in.

How RideAlong works

RideAlong is designed so that police officers and other first responders can search its database by name and location but also by gender, height, weight, ethnicity and age. When a search hits a result in the system, RideAlong can help officers detect subtle shifts from a known baseline behavior. The hope is that even very basic contextual information can provide clues that mean a big difference in outcomes.

So far, it seems to be working. RideAlong has been live in Seattle for a year, with the Seattle Police Department’s 1,300 sworn officers using the software every day. Over the course of six months with RideAlong, Seattle and King County saw a 35% reduction in 911 calls. That decrease, interpreted as a sign of more efficient policing, translated into $407,000 in deferred costs for the city.

“It really assists with decision making, especially when it comes to crisis calls,” Seattle Police Sergeant Daniel Nelson told TechCrunch. Officers have a lot of discretion to do what they think is best based on the information available. “There is so much gray space.”

Ridealong has also partnered with the San Francisco Department of Public Health where a street medicine team is putting it to use in a pilot. West of Seattle, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office is looking at RideAlong for its team of 300 officers.

What this looks like in practice: An officer responds to a call involving a person they known named Suzanne. They might remember that normally if they ask her about Suzanne’s dog it calms her down, but today it makes her upset. Rather than assuming that her agitated behavior is coming out of the blue, the responding officer could address concerns around Suzanne’s dog and help de-escalate the situation.

In another example, an officer responds to someone on the street who they perceive to be yelling and agitated. Checking contextual information in RideAlong could clarify that an individual just speaks loudly because they are hard of hearing, not in crisis. If someone is actually agitated and drawing helps them calm down, RideAlong will note that.

“RideAlong visualizes that data, so when somebody is using the app they can see, ‘okay this person has 50 contacts, they’ve been depressed, sad, crying,’” Nelson said. “Cops are really good at seeing behavior and describing behavior so that’s what we’re asking of them.”

The idea is that making personalized data like this easy to see can reduce the use of force in the field, calm someone down and open the door to connecting them social services and any existing support network.

“I’ve known all along that we’ve got incredible data, but it’s not getting out to the people on the streets,” said Maria X. Martinez, Director of Whole Person Care at San Francisco Department of Public Health. RideAlong worked directly with her department’s street medicine on a pilot program that gave clinicians access to key data while providing medical care in to the city’s homeless population.

Traditionally, street medicine workers go do their work in the field and return to look up the records for the people they interacted with. Now, those processes are combined and 15 different sets of relevant data gets pulled together and presented in the field, where workers can add to and annotate it. “It’s one thing to tell people to come back and enter their data… you sort of hope that that does happen,” Martinez said. With RideAlong, “You’ve already done both things: documented and given them the info.”

Forming RideAlong

The small team at RideAlong began when the co-founders met during a Code for America fellowship in 2016. They built the app in 2016 under the banner of a data-driven justice program during the Obama administration. Interest was immediate. The next year, Nammacher and Hitchcock spun the project out into its own company, became part of Y Combinator’s summer batch of startups and by July they launched a pilot program with the entire Seattle police department.

Neither co-founder planned on starting a company, but they were inspired by what they describe as a “real-time information gap” between people experiencing mental health crises and the people dispatched to help them and the level of interest from “agencies across the country, big and small” who wanted to buy their product.

“There’s been more of a push recently for quantitative data to be a more central force for decision making,” Nammacher said. The agencies RideAlong has worked with so far like how user friendly the software is and how it surfaces the data they already collect to make it more useful.

“At the end of the day, our users are both the city staff member and the person that they’re serving. We see them as equally valid and important.”

RideAlong is helping police officers de-escalate 911 calls with data designed for the field

RideAlong keeps people in mind, and that’s a good thing. The company, founded by Meredith Hitchcock (COO) and Katherine Nammacher (CEO), aims to make streets safer, not with expansive surveillance systems or high-tech weaponry but with simple software focused on the people being policed. That distinction sounds small, but it’s surprisingly revelatory. Tech so oftens […]

RideAlong keeps people in mind, and that’s a good thing. The company, founded by Meredith Hitchcock (COO) and Katherine Nammacher (CEO), aims to make streets safer, not with expansive surveillance systems or high-tech weaponry but with simple software focused on the people being policed. That distinction sounds small, but it’s surprisingly revelatory. Tech so oftens forgets the people that it’s ostensibly trying to serve, but with RideAlong they’re front and center.

“The thing about law enforcement is they are interacting with individuals who have been failed by the rest of society and social support networks,” Nammacher told TechCrunch in an interview. “We want to help create a dialogue toward a more perfect future for people who are having some really rough things happen to them. Police officers also want that future.”

Ridealong is specifically focused on serving populations that have frequent interactions with law enforcement. Those individuals are often affected by complex forces that require special care — particularly chemical dependence, mental illness and homelessness.

“I think it is universally understood if someone has a severe mental illness… putting them through the criminal justice system and housing them in a jail is not the right thing to do,” Nammacher said. For RideAlong, the question is how to help those individuals obtain long-term support from a system that isn’t really designed to adequately serve them.

Made for field work, RideAlong is a mobile responsive web app that presents relevant information on individuals who frequently use emergency services. It collects data that might otherwise only live in an officer’s personal notebook or a police report, presenting it on a call so that officers can use it to determine if an individual is in crisis and if they are, the best way to de-escalate their situation and provide support. With a simple interface and a no-frills design, RideAlong works everywhere from a precinct laptop to a smartphone in the field to a patrol car’s dash computer.

Nammacher explains that any police officer could easily think of the five people they interact with most often, recalling key details about them like their dog’s name and whether they are close to a known family member. That information is very valuable for responding to a crisis but it often isn’t accessible when it needs to be.

“They’ve come up with some really smart manual workarounds for how to deal with that,” Nammacher says, but it isn’t always enough. That real-time information gap is where RideAlong comes in.

How RideAlong works

RideAlong is designed so that police officers and other first responders can search its database by name and location but also by gender, height, weight, ethnicity and age. When a search hits a result in the system, RideAlong can help officers detect subtle shifts from a known baseline behavior. The hope is that even very basic contextual information can provide clues that mean a big difference in outcomes.

So far, it seems to be working. RideAlong has been live in Seattle for a year, with the Seattle Police Department’s 1,300 sworn officers using the software every day. Over the course of six months with RideAlong, Seattle and King County saw a 35% reduction in 911 calls. That decrease, interpreted as a sign of more efficient policing, translated into $407,000 in deferred costs for the city.

“It really assists with decision making, especially when it comes to crisis calls,” Seattle Police Sergeant Daniel Nelson told TechCrunch. Officers have a lot of discretion to do what they think is best based on the information available. “There is so much gray space.”

Ridealong has also partnered with the San Francisco Department of Public Health where a street medicine team is putting it to use in a pilot. West of Seattle, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office is looking at RideAlong for its team of 300 officers.

What this looks like in practice: An officer responds to a call involving a person they known named Suzanne. They might remember that normally if they ask her about Suzanne’s dog it calms her down, but today it makes her upset. Rather than assuming that her agitated behavior is coming out of the blue, the responding officer could address concerns around Suzanne’s dog and help de-escalate the situation.

In another example, an officer responds to someone on the street who they perceive to be yelling and agitated. Checking contextual information in RideAlong could clarify that an individual just speaks loudly because they are hard of hearing, not in crisis. If someone is actually agitated and drawing helps them calm down, RideAlong will note that.

“RideAlong visualizes that data, so when somebody is using the app they can see, ‘okay this person has 50 contacts, they’ve been depressed, sad, crying,’” Nelson said. “Cops are really good at seeing behavior and describing behavior so that’s what we’re asking of them.”

The idea is that making personalized data like this easy to see can reduce the use of force in the field, calm someone down and open the door to connecting them social services and any existing support network.

“I’ve known all along that we’ve got incredible data, but it’s not getting out to the people on the streets,” said Maria X. Martinez, Director of Whole Person Care at San Francisco Department of Public Health. RideAlong worked directly with her department’s street medicine on a pilot program that gave clinicians access to key data while providing medical care in to the city’s homeless population.

Traditionally, street medicine workers go do their work in the field and return to look up the records for the people they interacted with. Now, those processes are combined and 15 different sets of relevant data gets pulled together and presented in the field, where workers can add to and annotate it. “It’s one thing to tell people to come back and enter their data… you sort of hope that that does happen,” Martinez said. With RideAlong, “You’ve already done both things: documented and given them the info.”

Forming RideAlong

The small team at RideAlong began when the co-founders met during a Code for America fellowship in 2016. They built the app in 2016 under the banner of a data-driven justice program during the Obama administration. Interest was immediate. The next year, Nammacher and Hitchcock spun the project out into its own company, became part of Y Combinator’s summer batch of startups and by July they launched a pilot program with the entire Seattle police department.

Neither co-founder planned on starting a company, but they were inspired by what they describe as a “real-time information gap” between people experiencing mental health crises and the people dispatched to help them and the level of interest from “agencies across the country, big and small” who wanted to buy their product.

“There’s been more of a push recently for quantitative data to be a more central force for decision making,” Nammacher said. The agencies RideAlong has worked with so far like how user friendly the software is and how it surfaces the data they already collect to make it more useful.

“At the end of the day, our users are both the city staff member and the person that they’re serving. We see them as equally valid and important.”