Tech Talk: Finalist in Alliance for the American Dream Competition Focuses on Accessibility

Katy Smith
Danny Freudiger (left) and Cody O'Meara (right), founders of Transitus

Two Ohio State University students are working on a project to bring accessibility and transparency to food, healthcare and jobs by connecting Columbus residents in underserved areas with transportation options to daily needs.

Transitus is envisioned as an app that can tell a user what their options are for a flu shot, for example—the cost at competing providers, how far away the clinic is, how the user could get there and how long it would take to get there.

Founders Danny Freudiger and Cody O'Meara have been named one of 10 local finalists in a competition sponsored by the Alliance for the American Dream and Ohio State University (see sidebar on this page) that tasks local teams to come up with innovative ideas to improve the lives of people in targeted local communities.

Freudiger and O'Meara, mechanical engineers who are conducting doctoral and graduate research on vehicle battery science at Ohio State's Center for Automotive Research, say Columbus' win in the U.S. Department of Transportation's Smart City Challenge inspired them to found the Smart Campus organization at Ohio State, which led to Transitus.

“These Smart City-type projects require very diverse thinking to solve these problems—it can't just be done in engineering or computer science,” Freudiger says. “It requires people from the school of business, law, public policy.”

The pair are working on their idea with a software company and partners from the policy sector, the food industry and transportation data collection and analytics. The Transitus website lists Kroger, Ford, Nationwide, Giant Eagle, Abbott and Lime Bike as partners.

Like all of Ohio State's other nine finalists in the Alliance for the American Dream competition, they have been provided with a coach who's helping them to focus their idea and develop a business plan.

Will Transitus achieve startup success?

“Certainly, the idea of an app connecting underserved communities to transportation is a laudable idea. It would be more focused to start with one target, transportation options to connect to food, rather than three targets. Additionally, since some in the underserved communities may not have access to smart phones, it may be worthwhile, to also offer the service on a laptop for use in public places, for example in public libraries. The app will also require that the underserved person can locate the transportation using the app.”

Potential investor: Carol Clark, founder, X-Squared Angels

These are complex challenges, so seeing numerous organizations collaborating together to address each of the different factors with unique and innovative solutions is inspiring. Transitus is a wonderful example of how we can each do a part of the work to help achieve the goals set out by our community leaders, Smart Columbus, Alliance for the American Dream and many others. Together our community has an incredible opportunity to collaborate and address these important issues.”

Industry expert: Jerry Tsai, co-founder, EmpowerBus, and vice president in tech startup Acceptd

Boosting Social Mobility

Alliance for the American Dream, an Ohio State collaboration with Schmidt Futures, will name three finalists Dec. 10 in a contest to come up with creative ways to boost social mobility in underserved communities.

Ten local teams including academic groups, community organizations and businesses are vying for the chance to receive funding from Schmidt Futures, which has pledged $1.5 million. The organization was founded by former Google chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy, to “advance society through technology, inspiring breakthroughs in scientific knowledge and promoting shared prosperity.”

“If we make the top three at OSU, we go out to Arizona to compete against the top three ideas from the other three schools for additional funding,” says competitor Danny Freudiger, an OSU doctoral student.

Other ideas being explored include urban microfarming, a community investment fund and financing for home improvements.

Status: Idea development

Founders: Danny Freudiger and Cody O'Meara

Funding: Coaching support from Schmidt Futures/Ohio State University