On May 29, 2020, MCO graduate student Heer Joisher joined her college friend Sandeep Gummadi at a the MIT COVID-19 Beat the Pandemic II hackathon and emerged 48 hours later with an idea for a platform called CoSAFE and the opportunity to develop and implement it with the support of their hackathon partners.
Their proposed project, CoSAFE, would provide users with information about what steps restaurants have taken to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2. “CoSAFE is a platform that scores restaurants on their COVID safety standards and empowers customers to make safe dining choices,” Joisher explains. “CoSAFE incentivizes restaurants’ safety, rebuilds guest confidence, drives traffic back into restaurants, and thus, eventually helps revive the restaurant economy.”
With help from the MIT COVID19 Hackathon, MIT Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, Harvard Innovation Lab, and other hackathon sponsors, Joisher, Gummadi, and the international team they recruited through the hackathon hope to eventually roll out CoSAFE as an app, starting with information on restaurants in the Cambridge area.
Four members from the original CoSAFE team, including Joisher and Gummadi, are currently working toward a local launch for the platform later this summer.
While most in-person hackathons involve just a few dozen people, over 1800 participants in 89 countries tuned in for “Beat the Pandemic II.”
“The hackathon felt like an army of global citizens collaborating to fight the pandemic on all possible fronts,” Joisher says. “While problem solving has been the most common theme among all the hackathons I have participated in thus far, this Hackathon was very unique with its theme of ‘Beating the Pandemic’ and its focus on creating positive social impact.”
Prior to the hackathon, Gummadi, an investment analyst who works with restaurant stocks, had been developing a cardless system for paying at restaurants. But, through conversations during the early hours of the hackathon, the team arrived at the idea of CoSAFE, which would help restaurants communicate what precautions are being taken to customers. “We decided to join forces with Saket Tulsan, Vinayak Shastri, Hiba Turqui and Luca Pizenberg, who brought data science, engineering and design skills on board,” Joisher says, alluding to the CoSAFE team members that they met through the online hackathon.
The CoSAFE team said that winning the hackathon has given them confidence that the app would fill a need in the current economy. “In the light of the pandemic, the restaurant industry has lost over 50% of sales, fired more than 8 million employees, and is likely heading towards a quarter-trillion dollar loss by the end of the year,” Joisher says. “Sandeep and I have been trying to volunteer, donate, and help in all the ways that we could. However, we realized that the best way to make the most impact was to harness our skills and professional background for targeted problem-solving.”
“We were really surprised when CoSAFE was announced as one of the winners!” she adds. “It was a really exciting moment, where 48 hours of almost no sleep definitely felt like worth it to the entire team.”
Another MIT COVID-19 challenge hackathon called “Latin America vs. COVID” will take place on June 19-21. To stay tuned about updates on MIT’s COVID-19 Challenge hackathons, visit their webpage.