WHS Alum Spotlight: Joe Nigro

L.A. startup helps businesses find blue-collar workers via text

Apr 28, 2017, 6:00am PDT

From LinkedIn to ZipRecruiter, technology has streamlined job hunting and hiring like never before.

You can play games now to assess job skills, and even apply to work at McDonald’s via Snapchat.

But blue-collar day jobs are often still filled the old-fashioned way — by trawling Home Depot parking lots or tapping staffing agencies that take a cut of workers’ wages.

Work Today aims to streamline this $134 billion market with a new labor marketplace that connects the country’s 53 million blue-collar workers to daily jobs via text.

The Los Angeles startup has raised a $1.1 million seed round from Mucker Capital, Social Capital, Hone Capital (formerly CSC Venture Capital), Belgian fund E-Merge and GAN Ventures.

With Work Today, each morning users receive job offers on their phones including what the job is, where, when and how much it pays. The workers reply “yes” or “no,” then get details about where to show up and whom to ask for.

Work Today bills the business and pays workers the same day, charging a 20 percent service fee for each hour worked — to the business, not the worker. The average hourly payout to workers is nearly $14.

It’s a system that saves businesses time, delivering a vetted, experienced workforce with a text rather than hours of posting jobs and hunting for workers.

“I was raised by a single mother with my two little sisters. I saw what she had to do to make sure we had food on the table and clothes on our backs every single day,” founder and CEO Joe Nigro told me via email. “There is nothing more inspiring to me than building a business that can help anyone find consistent work, get paid instantly and give someone the ability to take care of their family and responsibilities.”

Before founding Work Today, Nigro was VP of growth at the recently shuttered HomeHero, which provided non-medical senior care, and GM at Handy, an app that books help around the house and acquired his startup Unsully.

His experience at those startups made him realize that workers don’t necessarily want to have to download yet another app — and many don’t have smartphones with that capability.

“The data doesn’t lie,” he said. “Text is by far the most engaging communication medium out there. Additionally, many of our workers don’t have smartphones — SMS is instantaneous and accessible to everyone.”

He hit the streets to prove his theory that texting was a way to connect businesses and workers, creating business cards in English and Spanish and handing them out at every Home Depot parking lot, unemployment agency and staffing firm he could find. Within a few weeks, he couldn’t handle the amount of volume coming in, and the company was born.

Since its launch in May 2016, Work Today has accumulated 50,000 workers on the platform and matched more than 150,000 jobs. The company is growing 30 percent month-over-month.

Currently the top three categories represented on the platform are construction, demolition and warehousing, but the company had a middle school book a substitute teacher, signaling how the service can be applied to other industries.

Work Today will use its seed round to expand from Los Angeles into Orange County and San Diego, as well as recruit more talent and test new sales channels.

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Dr.Mukai

Tinkering in the Retina “Garage” to Make Inexpensive Retinal Imaging Systems

Shizuo Mukai, MD

Abstract:

This story starts in 2004 when one of the ophthalmology trainees with an engineering background and I got together to think about and to build prototypes of inexpensive photography systems to image the retina using standard digital cameras.  The medical devices for this are very expensive (upwards of 200K) and cumbersome, and the need was an inexpensive, portable system.  The early trials taught us a great deal about the fundamentals of retinal photography, illumination, and digital camera control, as well as the differences in the way engineers (my student) and design people (me) think and approach problems.

The improvement in smartphone cameras allowed for use of the phone as the retinal camera.  It was also useful as image-recording devices attached to existing ophthalmic instruments or simply as an image-transfer device of photographs taken with a retinal camera.  We devised a minimalist system that can be used almost anywhere in the world.  Indeed, the technique was successfully taught even in remote countries such as Uganda, Madagascar, India, and Haiti as well as being used effectively for telemedicine and documentation at home here at the Harvard hospitals.  The technique was modified for use in experimental animals including rabbits and mice, both being very important in eye research.

Another smartphone-based approach, an app for automated diagnosis of eye conditions that cause a white pupil on snapshots, was conceived by a father of one of my patients that had such a condition.  Since one of the conditions is a cancer of the retina in young children called retinoblastoma, early detection is critical.  Using machine learning by analyzing thousands of images with and without the white pupil, an app was developed that is free and available on both iPhone and Android platforms.  The app can either evaluate the image live or carry out monthly reviews of all photos in your album.  We are currently in discussion with Facebook to create a system that would screen the photographs on social media.

Most retinal cameras require the pupil of the eye to be dilated with eye drops.  To address the need for an inexpensive, portable, retinal camera that does not require pharmacologic dilation, we built a working prototype camera using the Raspberry Pi® single-board computer with total material cost of $180.  We are currently building a dongle to attach the device to a smartphone that would decrease the cost to half and allow Internet and phone-platform access for telemedicine.

Finally, the process has been a lot of fun, and it has taught us tremendously about medical device development.  To motivate my students to develop new innovations, a prize was created consisting of an engraved retinal lens, publication in the Digital Journal of Ophthalmology, and funds to develop the innovation.

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