Entrepreneurs For Houston Launch $10M Fund to Aid Civic Tech Efforts

Houston—As Hurricane-turned-Tropical Storm Harvey slammed into the Texas Gulf Coast, a corps of civic tech volunteers ginned up mapping and other tools to help rescue and provide relief to Houston-area residents.

Now, the Entrepreneurs for Houston group, formed in response to the disaster, says it has launched a $10 million campaign to raise a fund that would support those volunteers and codify their efforts so that other communities can be better prepared when disasters strike.

“We think Houston could become a hub for civic tech,” says Blair Garrou, managing partner of Mercury Fund in Houston, and one of the founders of Entrepreneurs for Houston, or E4H. He says the fund is a way to directly support entrepreneurial efforts at Station Houston, Sketch City and other innovation organizations as Houston recovers from Harvey.

E4H’s near-term goal is to help pay for the development of a “Disaster Recovery Toolkit” by Station Houston and Sketch City. (Donors can choose to give to the general fund or target specific initiatives, which are detailed on the E4H website.) Among the projects already underway include:

—Shelter Bot, which allows people in need to text their zip code to (346) 214-0739 to find the nearest shelter;
—HelpOutHouston.com: a continuously updated map of shelters and their food, supplies, and volunteer needs; and
—TexasRescueMap.com/MuckMap: which connects homeowners who need help clearing out their flooded homes with people who want to help.

Last week, those tools were passed on to civic tech volunteers in Florida as that state’s communities braced for Hurricane Irma’s landfall. Leah Halbina, a Florida-based digital marketer and Harvey volunteer, told me that having these resources already in place was crucial for Florida volunteers to respond to Irma’s arrival quickly.

Even though the immediate threats from Harvey, and now Irma, are gone, these civic tech projects will need to be continually updated to reflect the short- and long-term needs of reconstruction, Garrou says.

He’s also concerned that many of the volunteers who created these tools may find themselves displaced and need to go back to focusing on their jobs—even if those paychecks mean moving out of the region. “We can do fellowships for entrepreneurs to stay in Houston and not leave,” he says, describing one possible approach for keeping people in the area.

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