Currently operating in Philadelphia, the tech-enabled business jawnt serves to increase transit ridership and mobility in cities.
After spending many years working at tech startups, Jeff Stade ’14 finally took the plunge in 2021 to start one of his own. Living in Philadelphia, he started jawnt with the goal of increasing ridership on public transit.
During his time at Elon, Stade split his time between the School of Communications and the computer science department. The information science major was always interested in building better technology for people and cultivated an entrepreneurial spirit as an Elon student.
“One of my favorite things that I did while at Elon was building Pandora’s Pies’ first website,” Stade said. “I didn’t want cash, so we made a deal where I just got a lot of free pizza. I was trying to help people by building out websites and developing startup ideas.”
Duke Hutchings, professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science, served as Stade’s research mentor at Elon, and he’s not surprised to see him work with the goal of helping others.
“At the world’s premier research conference in my field, Jeff’s work on educational technological innovation was the only undergraduate work selected as a finalist in the student research competition,” Hutchings said. “The throughline of Jeff’s work, in and out of school, is understanding and improving the lives of others. I’m proud to see Jeff continue to engage in work that will have a positive impact on our world.”
Stade worked in various industries to gain the foundational information he needed to start his own business. Forming jawnt has provided Stade with a “quick crash course in everything,” from sales deals and marketing to customers and hiring a team.
His primary goal in starting jawnt was to improve the experience behind transportation.
“Our goal is to increase people’s access to the city and to get around and stay mobile,” Stade said. “We do that by providing a unified way for employers to provide transit to their employees.”
Ridership in Philadelphia was low following the COVID-19 pandemic, which Stade took as motivation to get people back on board. Employers started considering how to help employees get to work, as employees were wavering between remote and in-person work.
Co-founded by technologist Will Sanderson, jawnt works with transportation providers to provide a streamlined transit experience to employees and employers. Employers can purchase train, bus, subway, bike and scooter access on one platform. Currently, jawnt manages transit benefits for some of the largest employers in Philadelphia and has partnerships with transit providers like SEPTA and Indego bike share. They are actively expanding to other cities.
Rather than taking public transportation, people default to using private cars. By improving the end riders’ experience, Stade hopes people will shift more of their rides away from private and rental cars and more into public transit.
A rise in public transit would significantly lower carbon emissions, having a positive impact on the environment.
Looking to the future, Stade sees a future where transit is the best way to get around any city. He envisions a world with more cooperation between different services like buses and bike share.
“It is frustrating that the experience of using many different forms of transit together is often disconnected and confusing,” Stade said. “Transit has always been an area underserved by good design and technology. We have an opportunity here to unify the whole experience of using and paying for transit.”