UNT Engineering alumnus Don Ward is cleaning up. As founder and CEO of Laundris, a startup based out of Austin, he works with Facebook, the City of Austin, Hilton Hotels and other large organizations to help them better coordinate their linen/laundry service.
“Laundry is the second largest expense for hotels,” he said. “So, we developed a management platform that allows these companies to keep track of their inventory and associated costs.”
Laundris leverages IoT, machine learning and AI to provide real-time business intelligence via software dashboards, ultimately saving their customers time and money. The software keeps track of when a hotel or company is running low on inventory and when items need to be washed or replaced.
“We help assist with automating their processes as well as help ensure that a hotel like the Hilton on the east coast receives the same experience as a Hilton on the west,” he said. “And, now in the COVID-era, we’ve also created a chain of custody process for cleanliness, helping organizations and customers understand when items like sheets and towels were last cleaned or sanitized.”
Ward was recently named one of 30 U.S. Black founders to Watch in 2021 by Google. He’s also been selected to participate in Alchemist Accelerator, an accelerator based out of Stanford University and exclusively for startups who receive revenue solely from enterprises. The program starts in December.
The entrepreneur says his idea for Laundris was born out of his time in industry sales and a book he’d read by Tim Chou, a professor at Stanford who is considered to be the “Godfather of Cloud Computing.” Ward will have the opportunity to connect with Chou in December during the accelerator program.
“I graduated with my bachelor’s in industrial technology, then went on to work at McAfee Software Sales, then IBM and Microsoft as a cloud sales rep,” he said. “In my sales role at Microsoft, I discussed emerging technologies such as IoT with customers and what the next ten years in digital transformation would look like, so that, coupled with Tim Chou’s book is where the inspiration came from.”
In his spare time, Ward also serves on the UNT alumni steering committee for Austin, where there’s estimated to be about 10,000 UNT alumni.
“I had a really great time at UNT. I was in a fraternity there, Kappa Alpha Psi, and I still have friends I went to college with. The recent push to connect with alumni has been great,” he said. “I’ve been really impressed since President Smatresk has come on board. He’s done a really great job at giving us an attachment to the university. If the university gives, then you have people like me ready to give back.”
He’s also invested time and funds into the UNT Engineering Senior Design Capstone. It’s the culminating event in an undergraduate student’s academic career, challenging student groups to work with corporate partners to apply their knowledge and talent in developing innovative solutions to real world problems. In 2019-2020, Ward enlisted a student group to create modules that could be incorporated into the code.
“I really wanted to expose the students to the concept of entrepreneurship and give them hands-on experience with a startup,” he said. “There aren’t too many opportunities like that at UNT, and if I can help provide that experience, then I think it’s great for the students and for the university.”
This year, the students will build out additional features for the platform that Laundris will implement in the future.
“I’ve spent a lot of time trying to build a collective of people for my business,” he said. “It’s a challenge, but it’s something that can not only help me but also possibly help other Mean Green alumni looking to dive into entrepreneurship, as well. Go Mean Green!"