DURHAM – More than a week after Hurricane Florence hit, NeedsList co-founder Amanda Levinson is at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, working with volunteers of Operation AirDrop to find out what supplies are still needed.

On top of the list: tarps, towels, solar lanterns, baby formula and diapers.

Soon she’s on the phone with bulk suppliers, so that people can “crowdbuy” essential items directly on the Durham-based tech startup’s site.

“Think of us as a wedding registry for humanitarian aid,” Levinson, 42, told WRAL TechWire. “We’re primarily a platform that supports people who have been displaced by war or natural disaster. When someone thinks ‘I want to help but I don’t know how,’ that’s what we’re here for.”

Monday night, Levinson will be among the startup founders featured at Big Top’s monthly Startup Crawl, fielding questions about the company’s rise. Others from LoadWell and #Me will also be on hand at American Underground starting at 6 pm.

“To date, the response has been incredible,” said Levinson, who recently moved the startup’s headquarters from Philadelphia to Durham when her husband got a teaching position at Duke University.

“Over 100 organizations working in 12 countries have used our platform. Over 40,000 needs have been met, and we are growing.

Filling a gap in the natural disaster relief market

NeedsList photo

Amanda Levinson of NeedsList works at RDU International collecting Hurricane Florence supplies.

It all began two years ago when Levinson, a digital strategist, teamed up with her friend, Natasha Freidus, 45, in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

At the time, she realized that there was a huge desire stateside to help out, but people struggled with how best to do so.

“I was seeing groups packing shipping containers filled with used clothing to Greece!” Levinson explained. “These containers cost up to $6,000 to ship and take months to arrive.”

By that time, it would be too late. These supplies were also bypassing the local economy, which in Greece was desperate for support. “People needed a way to support local groups on the ground, and to help get volunteers, cash and supplies to the right place at the right time.”

So NeedsList was born – a real-time needs registry for humanitarian aid, where non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, could list their supply, volunteer and cash needs in real time to share with supporters.

Meanwhile, Levinson and Freidus started setting up relationships with local suppliers, which ensured that cash was being infused into the local economy.

“Our vision is to make aid more streamlined, efficient, and transparent, and to direct resources to the often small, overlooked organizations doing the most effective work in the field.”

Their approach seems to be gaining traction. After a string of back-to-back disasters last year like the California wildfires, Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria, the company was pushed to expand quickly.

It has also been recognized with multiple international awards including first place in the Ben Franklin Fintech Accelerator, finalists for the US Chivas Business for Social Good Competition and selection for the Katapult Accelerator.

Looking ahead, the company plans to grow its platform. It’s also developing a chatbot for aid organizations to text in needs directly from the field.

“We want to be the place where, when disaster strikes, people say ‘I’ll go to NeedsList to see how to help!’” Levinson declared.