Data scientist Michael Roytman and his statistician friend Jesse Berns were working on a project together for the United Nations in Iraq that required a lot of the data to be in a central place and analyzed on the fly. But like a lot of countries in the developing world, Wi-Fi was spotty and they didn't have a lot of the tech available to make that possible.
Many of these operations rely on something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet and a hodgepodge of tools thrown together, making the data messy and the process complicated.
So the two went about co-founding Dharma, a startup with a software program for NGOs to simplify data collection, management, analysis and visualization in a way that is HIPAA-compliant, observes important security measures and could be used both online and off and in any language.
"While at the World Health Organization (WHO), I wanted to spend my time responding to outbreaks rather than cleaning Excel spreadsheets, making pivot tables and hiring consultants. I couldn't believe an out-of-the-box solution didn't already exist,” said Berns. "Michael Roytman and I founded Dharma because we believe everyone should have access to enterprise-level insights.
Dharma works like this: those working on data collection out in the field input the data into the system via iPad or some other mobile device. This is useful for those needing to create an electronic health record on the fly, for example. It needs to be centrally understood, sharable and secure the patient's data at the same time.
According to the co-founders, Dharma organizes this data in a way that is accessible and understood by those in various industries interested in the data, and the file can be shared in real-time with anyone all over the world.
The program has already been used in some of the most dire crises worldwide -- including in the recent hurricane Harvey and Irma disasters hitting the United States. Those working on the humanitarian crisis in Syria have used Dharma to track supplies, secure sensitive information and manage projects while on the ground, as well.
Dharma doesn't charge for the software by itself. Instead, it pulls its revenue by charging based on how much data is used. While that could still cost a nonprofit or NGO a pretty penny, Berns says it would save money compared to paying a large consulting firm to manage the data for you.
Dharma could move beyond the government sector into other applications in the future, according to former Google.org executive director and recent addition to Dharma's board, Larry Brilliant.
"Our vision is to continue the great work we’re doing in some of the world’s most crisis-driven regions, while introducing Dharma to organizations across other sectors that would benefit greatly from its powerful, proven technology," Brilliant said in a statement.
Other Dharma board additions include Docker CEO Steve Singh and The Rise Fund's Brian Dunlap.
The startup has so far raised $14.2 million in Series A financing from The Rise Fund, according to an SEC filing.