When a natural disaster hits, ensuring small businesses recover is critical to rebuilding impacted areas overall. Small Businesses face a wide variety of challenges as they recover, from restoring their revenue stream, gaining access to funds for recovery, paying employees or finding suppliers still in operation.
In order to help business owners, developers got to work building concepts to help mom and pop shops prepare and recover using APIs from Visa Developer and the U.S Government at the Small Business Hackathon in DC.
One team came out on top for best use of Visa APIs with the app Disaster Recovery Score. The team of four got inspired with the app idea while doing their own research of what it takes for small businesses to recover…their discovery? The amount of resources and information out there was overwhelming…there has to be an app to help reduce the noise and get small businesses back up and running, quickly. Enter Disaster Recovery Score.
Q: What brought you to the event? How did you hear about the hackathon?
A: Bahar and I had been to several hackathons in the past including a Capital One hackathon last year that was hosted by BeMyApp. Bahar got an email from BeMyApp about the Small Business Week Hackathon and shared it with me and her co-workers Charles and Harish. We saw it as a great opportunity to work together as a team to help small businesses.
Q: What were your thoughts about the challenge statement?
A: We were excited about the challenge statement; we were given a chance to help small businesses when they need it most. Small businesses are the engine of the economy and natural disasters are becoming more and more common and impacting more and more businesses so it was easy to get motivated to start thinking about solutions to help them.
Q: How did you come up with your solution?
A: We started looking at all the information we could find about the hackathon and soon found out who would be judging the hackathon. We tried to come up with ideas that would impress all of the judges and at the same time help as many small businesses as possible. We soon started to focus on Janice Jucker, she was the owner of Three Brothers Bakery in Houston, TX and had been impacted by several Hurricanes including Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Janice had received the 2018 Phoenix Award for Outstanding Small Business Disaster Recovery and to us that meant she was one of the best examples of how to recover from a natural disaster. We wanted to help small business owners prepare for natural disasters as well as she did. We then started looking through some of the disaster recovery resources and realized that there was an overwhelming amount of information available and that it would be hard to feel confident that you had done everything to prepare to recover after a natural disaster.
We settled on the idea of a score that would help small businesses understand how prepared they were to recover from a natural disaster and what areas they could work on to become better prepared. When we got to the hackathon we were able to talk directly with Janice to understand what were the most important parts of preparation we should take in account to calculate a disaster recovery score for a small business.
Q: What is the point of friction you wanted to address? How has other solution on the market today fallen short to address this issue?
A: The main point of friction was that many small businesses have never been through a natural disaster and don’t know what they will need to do when a natural disaster happens. The information available today is great but it's hard to be sure that you haven’t missed something that will be really important. Having all the steps needed to prepare for a natural disaster laid out in one app provides small businesses a clear plan to prepare for a natural disaster. Big companies have this know-how, if a big box store is hit by a natural disaster, Corporate headquarters knows exactly how to get that branch back up and running. We wanted to make a solution that would provide small businesses with this same ability.
Q: What are some of the details behind your app’s technology? What exactly is this technology, and how is it the best fit to solve the problems you’re solving?
A: The Disaster Recovery Score app is a Progressive Web App (PWA) built with Vue.js. PWAs are the cutting edge of app development and are extremely versatile. This means that there is no limit to how users can access the Disaster Recovery Score app, it can be easily packaged and published to both the App Store and Google Play. It can also be accessed from any computer with a web browser.
All of this is possible from a single codebase that provides users with a consistent user experience regardless of what device they’re using. The app is deployed on Firebase Hosting and user data is stored in Firebase Firestore. To leverage Visa APIs and store user documents, we implemented several Java microservices and deployed them on Google Cloud Kubernetes. Documents uploaded to the app’s digital vault are securely stored in Google Cloud Storage.
All of these technologies come together to make Disaster Recovery Score available to all small businesses and able to scale, even if every small in the US used it to prepare for natural disasters.
Q: Which Visa APIs did you use and how did it enhance your solution?
One of the subscores used to calculate a business's Disaster Recovery Score is their access to operational suppliers score. This subscore is determined by how many supplier’s they have entered into the app that they intend to use after a natural disaster. Usually a small business will buy supplies from a neighboring supplier but after a natural disaster it’s possible that their usual neighboring supplier is also impacted by the natural disaster and is unable to help. By using the Visa Merchant Locator API, we were able to provide the user with the ability to search for suppliers that would probably be outside of the impacted area of the natural disaster. The user specifies a radius and the app returns merchants that are outside of that radius. The user can then add them to their operational suppliers list. This way the small business will already know what suppliers they can use when they need supplies after a natural disaster.
Another subscore is the small business’s ability to recover revenue flow. It’s possible that a small business may be ready to do business after a natural disaster but internet connectivity may be down or the business’s point of sale is damaged. By using the Authorize.net Payment API, The Disaster Recovery Score app provides the small business with an emergency point of sale so that they can accept payments with only a mobile device and cell signal.
Q: What is next for Disaster Recovery Score? And/or How would you build out the features more?
A: When we spoke to Janice at the hackathon she said that one of the biggest roadblocks to recovery was securing the funds needed to buy the things needed to get back in business. All of the replacement equipment and supplies had to be purchased on lines of credit, while all of the cash they had saved up went to paying employees, because employees can only be paid with cash. Of course they had insurance and they had applied for disaster recovery loans from the SBA, but those funds would take at least a month to show up. Each new line of credit she established brought her credit score down which made it harder to open other lines of credit. To creditors, all of this extra spending looks like they’re going on a shopping spree when in reality it’s the only way to get back in business.
Using the Disaster Recovery Score app and working through all of the subscores could be part of an application process for a new type of Visa card called the “The Visa Disaster Recovery Card”. Visa would review and verify the information entered into the app the same way they review and verify information in other credit card applications. A small business’s traditional credit score and Disaster Recovery Score could be used to determine the business’s credit line. The credit line would then be activated when a natural disaster is declared in the small business’s area and provide them with the liquidity to buy what they need immediately after disaster strikes.
The team won Best Use of Visa APIs and 2nd Place Overall, going home with $20K in cash prizes. Congrats!
What do you think about the project? Comment below.