makes MassChallenge Accelerator program

From a feature in the Boston Globe:

MassChallenge reveals 125 start-up finalists

By Gail Waterhouse, Globe Correspondent

After their family home in Monson was hit by the tornadoes last June, Caitria O’Neill and her sister Morgan decided to launch, a website platform for towns needing to rebuild after disasters.

Now is one of 125 finalists revealed on Tuesday by MassChallenge, the Boston-based nonprofit that offers more than $1 million in annual prizes and services to promising start-ups from all over the world.

“We’re trying to start a business, but we’re not business people,” Caitria O’Neill said. “What we’ve got is a social mission, a really awesome set of tools, and now we have to make it something sustainable. That’s what MassChallenge represents to us.”

This year’s MassChallenge class will participate in a three-month “accelerator program” that includes mentoring services, free office space, access to funding, and legal advice.

Advertisements featured on iDisaster 2.0 blog

Kim Stephens recently profiled our Disaster Dashboard on her prominent disaster blog – iDisaster 2.0

Caitria O’Neill received a degree in European Studies from Harvard, studied in Paris and Moscow and is proficient in four languages. Her sister, Morgan O’Neill, is pursuing a doctorate at MIT in Atmospheric Physics, but is also an EMT-B and volunteers for a local ambulance service.  Neither of them has a background in emergency management, yet,  these woman became the defacto volunteer and donations management coordinators for Monson, Massachusetts in June 2011 after an F3 tornado struck their hometown and a string of communities in the south west of the state.

In the aftermath of the disaster, they found their way to a local Church that became the community relief center. Caitria told me that they learned early on about the challenges they would face.  It was June and hot, so any ice they had was melting. Her sister was  interviewed by a local reporter who asked what they needed and she blurted out “freezers!” About 20 donated freezers later, Caitria realized that when you ask for items after a disaster there is a strong likelihood that you will get them–in duplicate. They needed a way to match needs with people’s desire to give, as well as a way to let people know needs had been met, and they needed it immediately. As you might imagine these two young woman are quite resourceful, so with no prior knowledge of VOADs, ESFs or spontaneous volunteer management, they built a technical solution they now call Recovers has turned into a full-fledged business venture for these women along with an equally impressive group of MIT and Harvard grads rounding out their team.

Their solution

One of their goals is to provide software and support to recovering areas immediately after an event. Speed is an important element because they have found that donations for small local disasters, especially those that do not get national press attention, dry up after a very short period of time. For most of us in the emergency management community often our biggest concern is the thought of unsolicited donations or volunteers, but donations are vital to recovery. As an example of how interest declines,  Forney, Texas recently used this software after the April 3, 2012 tornado. The site was up and running immediately and received 19,000 page view in 4 days, with $30,000 in online donations. After day 4, however,  there was a precipitous decline in online searches for opportunities to donate and subsequently, in site visits. As an important side note: 100% of all resources collected on the site go to the community. 

One of the items that they felt important to include, based on their experience in Monson, was the ability for volunteers to log their service hours through the software portal, which can also be done on the mobile phone and tablet application. Other handy features:

  • Volunteer remote sign-up
  • Donation item remote sign-up
  • Social media content aggregation
  • Easily searchable resource databases
  • Aid matching
  • Detailed record keeping

I don’t often blog about specific products, even though I am asked to do that on a regular basis. This tool, however, struck me as something interesting since it also demonstrates the resilient nature of our communities as well as the profound brilliance and creativity of young people to solve thorny, complex problems….if we let them! I like this statement on their website:

“There are simple tech solutions to the problems common to every recovery effort. By addressing the systemic problems in current organization with smart technology solutions, we can achieve maximum impact at minimum cost.”

Indeed we can. Wins Big at MIT IDEAS Competition

MIT IDEAS Global Challenge

Team won one of two $10,000 grants at the MIT IDEAS Competition last Thursday.
Read a feature here:

After a tornado hit their Massachusetts home in June 2011, sisters Morgan and Caitria O’Neill — an MIT graduate student in atmospheric physics and a recent Harvard College graduate, respectively — founded, a web-based platform for disaster organization that includes software for collecting donations and connecting aid organizers in different areas. They saw firsthand the “serious endemic problems to disaster relief,” Morgan O’Neill said, realizing, “There are really easy technologies we can apply to this.”