Geeking Out for Good
by Albert Hong
Apps. Whether you access them on a website or download them to your phone, they’re a growing platform for crowdsourcing and problem-solving on a micro and macro level. Here are six to look out for from Philadelphia’s growing class of community-minded social entrepreneurs.
Tours that show the real Philadelphia
Just a heads up: This app from Philly-based Tory Wergelis-Isaacson isn’t available to download just yet, but the concept for Zeeno may be something you want to consider getting involved in when the tourists really start hitting Philly in the summer. Zeeno aims to be a resource for visitors who want to get personalized tours from locals here and elsewhere. That’s where you come in—you can sign up now to become a tour guide, and after you’re put through an application process and background check, you could become an official Zeeno guide.
Stormwater Credits Explorer
Keeping our water clean
We’re fortunate that the Philadelphia Water Department (now known as just Philadelphia Water) manages our stormwater runoff—through the organization’s work in implementing the green stormwater efforts of its 25-year Green City, Clean Waters plan. The Stormwater Credits Explorer web app, which launched in 2015, is a pretty neat and practical part of that plan. With its simple-to-use interface, the app can be used by commercial property owners in Philadelphia to not only find out how much they’re paying in terms of stormwater fees on their water bills but also how much they could save if they installed some stormwater tools onto their property. Just enter an address and the app lets you experiment with different pieces of infrastructure—green roofs, rain gardens, permeable pavements, stormwater basins and subsurface storages—to get an estimate of your savings. With the deterring of stormwater pollution being one of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Enforcement Initiatives for the next three years, it’s great to see our city thinking one step ahead.
Reuniting lost pets with their families
There’s no doubt that a compilation video of a dog’s failed attempts at catching food in the air can instantly help make the day a bit better. Cory Donovan, program manager at ImpactPHL and co-organizer of the Philly New Technology Meetup, built a free app for both iOS and Android devices thatchannels our communal love of animals into an Amber Alert for lost pets. The idea is simple enough—people who download the app can make a profile for each of their pets, and if any of them end up lost, owners can report them with the app, sending a push notification to any FurAlert users in the nearby area so they can help in the search. The success of the app will hinge on people downloading FurAlert before their own pet gets lost, since the app can only work if the community is already linked in. Sign up today, find Fido tomorrow.
Ditching student loans for scholarships
Scholly may be the best-known of these Philly-made apps. It’s a scholarship-finding service for high school students, college students and graduate students that was featured by news outlets such as Forbes and “Good Morning America.” It was even awarded an investment from Daymond John and Lori Greiner of ABC’s “Shark Tank.” The pitch on “Shark Tank” from Christopher Gray, the founder of Scholly who graduated from Drexel University after winning $1.3 million in scholarships, ended up sparking what’s touted as the biggest fight ever among the show’s “sharks.” Gray and his co-founders, Nick Pirollo and Bryson Alef, created the app to help match students with scholarships tailored for them. Their efforts have been noticed by big-name celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, when Gray was included on her SuperSoul 100 list last year. Actor Jesse Williams has since been a board member and chief brand ambassador
for Scholly. Check it out.
Getting food to hungry people
We’ve covered the awesome work of Food Connect before, most recently in our December 2016 issue, so it doesn’t need to be repeated how important this platform has been, which connects restaurants with leftover food to homeless shelters and community organizations around Philadelphia. Founded by Megha Kulshreshtha, a Philly-based real estate developer, the free app has been an instrumental part in helping the one-quarter of Philadelphians who are struggling with food insecurity. Kulshreshtha’s belief in the power of working together was made most evident during the Democratic National Convention this past summer, when Food Connect partnered with other hunger relief organizations to collect food from the restaurants serving the 50,000 people who traveled to Philadelphia for the event. Through Food Connect—which won the Dev Project of the Year award at the 2016 Philly Geek Awards—people with food to donate, who need food or who can drive between locations all coalesce to make the app what it is.
Helping companies support employee social action
At its heart, MilkCrate was always an app that tried to make sustainable living easy for everyone. It originally connected individuals with sustainable businesses nearby, whether they were looking for asingle cup of coffee or a responsible caterer. But CEO Morgan Berman and her team have rebuilt the company and the app from the ground up, and just launched the MilkCrate for Communities platform. The new app helps corporations’ employees and communities be socially and environmentally active; MilkCrate has gamified making socially responsible decisions, which the app tracks and rewards. Redirecting efforts toward a business-to-business service for corporations has given them access to a bigger pool of users, and they’ve recently announced a partnership with Comcast. Even if you’re not part of a participating company, you can still download the Android app and use its original feature. But if the recent deal with Comcast tells us anything, there’s a chance we’ll get to use the entire platform sooner rather than later.