The phrase “We’re all in this together” takes on new urgency and meaning right now.
Washington University in St. Louis has a long tradition of coming together to care for one another and work toward the greater good, whether it be on campus, in our region, or around the world. Our community—on campus and beyond—continues to practice this during the current crisis, and that includes members of the WashU innovation ecosystem. Here are a few WashU innovators and entrepreneurs who are doing what they can to help and serve those directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Normal Brand, an apparel brand co-founded by WashU alum Jimmy Sansone, teamed up with country music star Luke Combs on a limited edition baseball cap featuring Combs’ logo. The hat is priced at $30 and 100% of the profits from sales will be donated to the Barstool Fund, which helps small businesses in need during the pandemic.
Social enterprise Nest, founded by WashU alum Rebecca van Bergen, sprang into action on several fronts at the beginning of the pandemic. Its PPE Purchasing Initiative reduced the financial burden and threat of unemployment for small businesses by financing their production of high-quality and/or medical-grade PPE. These were then donated to frontline workers in their local communities or hotspot locations. Nest also supported artisan businesses by developing resource guides with information on available legal and financial support. And it awarded COVID-19 relief grants to its Artisan Guild members to assist them with e-commerce development, digital sales and marketing strategy, and product financing. They continue to add resources to help artisan businesses survive as the pandemic stretches on.
The school year ended a month ago, but Learning Lodge, an online tutoring service founded by Washington University in St. Louis students, continues to help local elementary and middle school students practice math, social studies, even music. Washington University students Lily Xu and Alex Hu formed Learning Lodge in the early days of the COVID-19 crisis; it’s since grown to include 175 tutors across the country. Read more on the Source.
As an undergraduate, Harsh Moolani founded Create Circles. The nonprofit organization strives to reduce social isolation and cognitive decay of older adults in longterm care by pairing them with young volunteers to produce creative projects such as articles, videos and podcasts. Moolani, who graduated in December with a degree in neuroscience, is currently training 190 volunteers, including 80 Washington University students, through his platform Students to Seniors to “visit” residents of area long-term care facilities virtually via phone and tablet.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has completely isolated our elderly loved ones. We must do whatever we can to help bring the humanity back during these dire circumstances.”
– Create Circles
Gateway to the Great Outdoors (GGO), founded by WashU alums Nadav Sprague (AB’ 17, MPH’ 20) and Ben Aiken (AB’16), is a non-profit that provides underserved students with access to environmental education, outdoor learning, and environmental stewardship. While COVID-19 has forced schools to adopt online learning, many GGO students do not have reliable internet access. To bridge this accessibility gap, GGO is making S.T.E.A.M. education kits consisting of urban agriculture, chemical & matter alteration, and art-in-nature lesson plans available free to students of all ages for use at home with their families. Donate here.
“These kits will allow students to continue their scientific curiosity, internal exploration, and nature appreciation regardless of access to technology.” – GGO
St. Louis Food Angels is an affiliate of Sling Health, a non-profit student-run healthcare accelerator founded by WashU medical students in 2013. With support from Washington University School of Medicine, Sling Health STL Chapter, community organizations and local farmers, St. Louis Food Angels is providing free, contactless food delivery to healthcare workers and quarantined individuals during the COVID-19 outbreak. Many of the founding STL Food Angels are medical or public health students at WashU. They are collaborating with St. Louis University students, community organizations and local farmers to assist those in need in their community. Volunteer here.
Chris Lozano (JD ’89) is CEO of St. Louis-based Halcyon Shades. As a “non-essential” business, the manufacturer of high-tech, solar window shades was facing the prospect of shuttering operations, laying off its workforce and staring down an uncertain future. Instead, the company shifted rapidly to producing protective face shields for use by first responders and healthcare workers in the battle against COVID-19. Halcyon recently made its first shipment and is currently receiving orders, keeping the company’s doors open and its people working while meeting an urgent need during a time of crisis.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What can we do with the people, resources and talent on hand? What can we do to help our community or our workers?” – Halcyon Shades
Stumpy’s Spirits distillery, founded by WashU alum Adam Stumpf (MBA ’14), has partnered with the National Corn to Ethanol Research Center at SIUE to provide hand sanitizer to aid in the fight against COVID-19. The NCERC will produce the product in accordance with the WHO’s hand sanitizer formula as well as FDA regulations. Stumpy’s will then use its high-speed automated packaging operations to package and distribute it throughout the St. Louis region. The first shipments are for healthcare centers and first responders, including the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency. After fulfilling these priority orders, the hand sanitizer will be available to the general public to purchase.
Immuniweb, founded by WashU alum Ilia Kolochenko (MLS ‘19), provides app security solutions to organizations of all types. With companies migrating sales, workflow and other functions into the digital space because of coronavirus, ImmuniWeb is providing eligible entities with a solutions bundle valued at $500,000 to help them address cybersecurity, compliance and privacy issues that will arise as a result. For all other companies and organizations, they have enhanced their free Community Offering with features previously available to paying customers only and removed some daily test limits to ensure everyone will be able to test their security in just one click.
GiftAMeal, founded by WashU alum Andrew Glanz (AB ’17), is a startup with service at the core of its mission. The app allows users to donate a meal to someone in need by taking a photograph at a partner restaurant and sharing it on social media. With restaurants shut down as a result of COVID-19, GiftAMeal is doing its part to support local restaurants and people facing hunger in St. Louis. The socially conscious dining app has implemented a number of changes, including temporarily lifting the location requirement to physically be at a partner restaurant. That makes it possible to donate meals by takeout, delivery and gift-card purchases. GiftAMeal also is launching a campaign to match donations up to $5,000 for Operation Food Search to help food-insecure people in St. Louis. Donate here.
“It may be a drop in the ocean, but we are determined to continue with our mission and help how we can.” – GiftAMeal
In response to school closures due to the coronavirus, Varsity Tutors, founded by Washington University in St. Louis alum Chuck Cohn (BSBA ’08), has launched a new service called Virtual School Day, which offers more than 20 hours of live, online classes across a variety of core subjects for K-12 students. According to Varsity Tutors’ website, “Virtual School Day can supplement partial-day online learning provided by a school, or it can even serve as an all-day syllabus for the weeks that school is out.”
“We believe parents shouldn’t have to carry this burden alone.” – Varsity Tutors
Square, founded by alum Jim McKelvey (AB, BSCS ’87), is funding all software subscription fees through the end of April for sellers using Square Appointments, Retail, Restaurants, Loyalty, Team Management, Payroll, Marketing, and Square Online Store. The company has released a curbside pickup option through the Square Online Store, and it will release a local delivery feature this week. Square also is waiving curbside pickup and delivery fees for the next three months.
“We’re all facing unique challenges right now, and for business owners, the stakes are particularly high. We want to offer support and help in the ways we can.” – Square
Matter, a health-care accelerator and incubator, and 1871, a technology and entrepreneurship center, were both founded by WashU alum Steven Collens (AB ’93). They have joined with other Chicago innovation centers to mobilize the technology ecosystem there to directly support the fight against COVID-19. A website seeking open calls for solutions from health officials, policymakers, advocates and other administrators, along with opportunities for innovators to share their solutions, is now live at CPR-Covid19.com. Matter also has posted a resource page to help health-care innovators navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
As organizations strive to move rapidly in their responses to COVID-19, workplace policies have moved front-and-center. Questions about work-related travel, modified office hours, working remotely, and sick leave have become commonplace and increasingly urgent. In response, Capacity — founded by WashU alum David Karandish (BSCS ’05) — has teamed up with HR.com, a leading provider of human resources knowledge, news and policies, to offer a free coronavirus chatbot. The AI-powered conversational interface is a completely free resource to help HR professionals make informed policy decisions related to coronavirus.
According to UNESCO, as of March 20, nearly 2.3 million students are out of school due to coronavirus, and that number is rising. In response, schools are working to adopt distance learning so teachers can continue to teach and students can continue to learn. Schoology, founded by WashU alumni Jeremy Friedman (AB ’09), Ryan Hwang (BSBA ’09) and Tim Trinidad (BS ’09), has put together a Distance Learning Readiness Kit of resources for virtual learning during emergencies. They’re also allowing current customers to increase their license count at no additional cost so they can scale up quickly during the crisis.
Founded by alum Luke Saunders (AB ’09) in 2013, Farmer’s Fridge makes fresh, healthy food accessible and affordable via smart vending “fridges” located all across the Chicago area. As people practice social distancing during the COVID-19 outbreak and stay home, the company has donated unpurchased food from their Fridges to Lincoln Park Community Services, an organization that aims to create solutions for the homelessness issue by providing housing and support.
“We’ve got to stick together right now.” – Farmer’s Fridge
Check back for updates to this page.
If you are a WashU faculty, student or alum innovator or entrepreneur, let us know what your organization is doing in response to coronavirus.