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Inspiring Conversations with Ryan-Alexander Thomas of Umanity

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ryan-Alexander Thomas.

Ryan-Alexander, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I was a music teacher at St. Theresa Catholic School in Houston, TX, out of college. I wanted to make music education applications but realized I knew nothing about computer science or making apps. Thus, I interned (for free) at UH’s computer lab, where professors hired students to develop CS projects. After six months of teaching myself to code via any project I could get my hands on, I was offered a full-time job with MIT’s CoLab as a programmer. After working for almost two years out of Cambridge, I enrolled at The Ohio State University, where I studied Computer Science & Engineering. After my first year at Ohio State, I was offered a job working for my professor’s startup, Super-H Analytics. It was there, in 2016, I met my co-founder (at the time, my co-worker), Alec Daling. Over the next two years, we developed end-to-end data analytic solutions for clients such as The US Department of Defense, Nationwide Insurance, and Mayo Clinic, my specialty being Natural Language Processing and Topic Modeling. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey devastated much of the gulf coast, including my hometown of Houston. As data scientists, we were curious how could so much aid could flow into the city and somehow not reaching everyone who needed help… this was the impetus for Umanity: is it possible to connect and coordinate community resources to those in need in real-time with near-perfect efficiency, transparency, and equity?

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
We have nearly all of the standard challenges that startups face: no money, no interest, etc. Over time, we have refined our approach to be centered on solving the problem: collaborative philanthropy. The challenge has been measuring impact, reaching communities facing the digital divide, and then scaling cost-effectively.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Umanity?
Umanity is the social infrastructure for social impact. So many initiatives are ineffective, particularly when disaster strikes, because giving is not collaborative and communication is scattered. People who can help and people who need help can’t effectively connect and coordinate. Umanity established a framework so that every aspect of philanthropy, from project and event management to partners, volunteers, and donations can be crowdsourced. We eliminate the all too common phone calls, emails, and guesswork that organizations rely on now. Umanity transforms hours of internet browsing and everyday acts of service into data-driven solutions with real-time actionable insights.

Let’s talk about our city – what do you love? What do you not love?
Houston is the best of the human spirit. We have vibrant arts and culture, incredible food, and the kindest, most resilient citizens. Aside from the traffic of course, the worst thing is how much our resilience is tested. From the winter storm to consistent floods, Houstonians show up for each other when disaster strikes. Umanity is doing our part to bring together tech and philanthropy, so that no one falls through the cracks. We are proud of our Houston roots, and are happy that we have so much support in new technology and opportunities.

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