Chicago Tech Companies on the COVID-19 Front Lines, Part II

April 28, 2020

Chicago nonprofit New Moms offers housing, job training and family support to young moms striving to overcome poverty and homelessness. According to the organization’s 2019 annual report, the program provided more than 45,000 nights of shelter to 64 families last year. 

So when the staff reached out to ready-to-eat meal company Nurture Life for help purchasing supplies, leadership answered the call. Nurture Life Co-Founder Jennifer Chow said they made a significant monetary donation to New Moms as part of their efforts to aid the community in the last few weeks.

And she’s not alone. In part two of a two-part series, three local tech professionals shared how they’re giving back while balancing the responsibility of keeping their employees safe. For some, that has meant helping deliver building blocks for a pop-up hospital. For others, it meant managing hand sanitizer shipments to hospitals, first responders and those who are most vulnerable from home.

Peapod Digital Labs
Peapod Digital Labs
Jennifer Chow
Co-Founder

For the last few weeks, Chow and her co-founder have been safely hand-delivering thousands of kid-friendly Nurture Life meals to Lakeview Pantry, the largest food pantry in Chicago. The company’s meals are made up of organic produce, antibiotic-free proteins and whole grains. According to Chow, meal delivery has taken on a completely new meaning since the pandemic started. 

 

How is your company currently contributing to the COVID-19 efforts?

Nurture Life’s reliable and safe delivery has been a lifeline for families during COVID-19. Cooking and delivering meals has always been one of our specialties, but meal delivery has a completely different meaning now. Our meals arrive fresh in refrigerated packaging with a one-week shelf life. They also freeze easily so our customers are able to have plenty on hand.

As more families are now eating together at home, we are adding a “teens and adults” category to our supply so that parents can order the same meals as their kids. 

While we have donated to both Lakeview Pantry and New Moms consistently over the past few years, we have significantly increased our effort to help during this critical time. We are continually focused on finding ways to lend a helping hand to those who need food assistance in our hometown market. 

Meal delivery has a completely different meaning now.’’  

What is the greatest challenge COVID-19 has presented to your team?

As an essential business, we are continuing to operate and deliver uninterrupted across the contiguous U.S while working to ensure the safety and well-being of our team members and the children and families we serve.

 

What impact have these events had on your overall business, product and hiring plans? 

For our team members working remotely, we understand everyone is going through something different both professionally and personally. So we are dedicating time to helping our team members through this. 

And like all companies, we are doing everything we can to mitigate risk, from communicating daily with our suppliers to ensuring we’re able to fulfill customer orders.

 

Keith Nicks
Digital and E-commerce Officer

At Peapod Digital Labs, the digital and e-commerce team is facing a unique challenge. Digital and E-commerce Officer Keith Nicks said he’s trying to balance scaling the company’s online platform to meet the current increased demand while focusing on the customer experience. Stakes aren’t low. According to Nicks, website traffic has been between four and six times the normal volume.

 

How is your company currently contributing to the COVID-19 efforts? 

Peapod Digital Labs is responsible for delivering digital and e-commerce capabilities to customers who shop Ahold Delhaize brands through websites, mobile apps, fulfillment and automation. When you’re in the grocery business, you don’t really think about signing up to be on the front lines of a pandemic. But as this has taken place, that’s exactly what’s happened. 

The grocery industry is responsible for delivering food and products to customers. And as the e-commerce arm of that grocery operation, PDL is trying to support customers as they shift to getting their groceries online, allowing them access to the products and services they want to access. 

 

What is the greatest challenge COVID-19 has presented to your team?

The challenge we’re seeing in relation to COVID-19 is two-fold. On the one hand, website traffic is between four and six times the normal volume. We’ve had to rapidly scale up our platform to support that kind of traffic while adjusting our fulfillment operations to ensure our customers and employees are staying safe. We quickly implemented contactless delivery and contactless pickup options, as we want to respect our customer’s personal circumstances.

At the same time, we still have ambitious goals related to how we continue to evolve the features and functionality of our platforms. We want to make improvements based on what matters to the customer. So, the challenge is trying to scale the solution to meet the increased demand while also focusing on the experience. It’s a lot to manage but our customers are counting on us. 

It’s a lot to manage but our customers are counting on us.’’ 

What impact have these events had on your overall business, product or hiring plans?

Our teams have stepped up to ensure that we’re continuing to deliver for customers during this difficult time. But, to keep moving quickly, we’re also hiring across all fronts of tech. We’re hiring JavaScript developers, quality engineers, DevOps professionals and front-end developers. We’re looking for more folks who are hungry for this kind of challenge. 

As COVID-19 continues to impact traffic both in-store and online, we need team members who can help us deliver the products customers want using the best experience possible. 

 

Echo Global Logistics CIO Miles English credits his team’s adaptability for the success they have had supporting essential businesses. While the pandemic has forced employees to shift typical work habits, they have been able to witness the fruits of their labor in real time. For example, the company helped transport life-size building blocks to a pop-up hospital facility in New Orleans. 

 

How is your company currently contributing to the COVID-19 efforts?   

Echo Global Logistics provides technology-enabled transportation and supply chain management services to our clients and carriers. 

Throughout the COVID-19 situation, the transportation of goods is imperative to keep stores stocked with items like food and household cleaning supplies. By managing the transportation of our clients’ products, Echo plays a key role in making sure essential goods are available to consumers across the country. 

For example, one of our clients, a distillery that specializes in making craft spirits, revamped their usual operations to produce thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer in response to an ever-growing need for the antiseptic. While our client is working around the clock to meet the overwhelming demand, we have been fully managing the shipments to hospitals, first responders and those most vulnerable. 

  

What is the greatest challenge COVID-19 has presented to your team? 

At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, we had to quickly transition our 2,500 employees to a remote work setting. We rapidly implemented our business continuity plan and equipped our employees with the tools and technology they needed to continue to fully carry out their job functions while away from the office.  

Our proprietary technology, EchoAccelerator, allows us to continue to support our network of clients and carriers on a single platform. Our flexible technology suite enables us to continue to provide capacity. It’s our job to ensure our shippers’ supply chains remain uninterrupted.  

It’s our job to ensure our shippers’ supply chains remain uninterrupted.’’ 

What impact have these events had on your overall business, product and hiring plans? 

Throughout this situation, Echo remains fully operational, continuing to service all modes of transportation while abiding by government and health regulations. 

The COVID-19 outbreak has also given us the chance to find creative solutions for our clients. For example, one of our clients manufactures life-size building blocks that are being used to build a temporary pop-up hospital facility in a New Orleans’ convention center. Our team was able to secure expedited shipments of these blocks, consisting of 35 trucks with teams of drivers. 

Because the building blocks arrived in New Orleans so quickly, the pop-up hospital was set up in record time to prepare for incoming patients. 

 

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