Waterloo Student Startup: Epoch App Makes it Easier to Help Refugees

Caitlin McLaren - 4B Chemical
Posted on: February 19, 2017

Yes, it’s official! There truly is an app for everything. Apps for travel, for socializing, anything you can imagine – and coming soon, and app for helping refugees.

A team of Waterloo students, Lisa Tran, Scott Forsyth, and siblings Jade and Keith Choy won the Waterloo division of the 2017 Hult Prize with their startup idea, Epoch, and are soon heading off to London to compete for the $1 million grand prize. The Hult Prize is a yearly student competition which challenges students around the world to find a solution to serious social issues, with topics each year chosen by Bill Clinton. It is meant to help young entrepreneurs with ideas that will make the world a better place get their ideas running. We all wish our winners good luck!

This year’s topic is “Refugees – Reawakening Human Potential”, with the challenge question “Can we build sustainable, scalable, social enterprises that restore the rights and dignity of 10 million refugees by 2022?”. The Waterloo idea, Epoch, is a social app for helping refugees integrate into a new community.  This can be a very valuable tool, in Kitchener-Waterloo especially, where around 1000 Syrian refugees have been settled.

Epoch will connect people who require services with other people who have the time and ability to provide them – ranging from household chores to tutoring. It will work on a time-credit system, where users can utilize time-credits from services they perform for other people to “purchase” services that they need. For example, suppose you see that someone on the app needs help with their spring cleaning. If you help them for a couple hours, you get time-credit for those two hours you spent with them. Then, if you later need help moving, you can use your time-credits to get someone to help you.

Epoch is working with ShamRose for Syrian Culture, a group in Kitchener dedicated to helping the refugees in our community. You can check Epoch out at epochapp.com, and ShamRose at shamrose.ca.

As for what you can do right now to help; many of our new neighbours don’t speak English, making it a lot harder for them to socialize, study, and access important services. You can help! ShamRose holds English-speaking sessions at the Queen Street Common Café in downtown Kitchener every Tuesday from 5-7 P.M. If you are proficient in English (and yes, engineers do count!) why not show up and help some Syrians adapt to their new surroundings?

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