Black engineers revolutionize take out amidst COVID-19

Lavii, Inc is simplifying everyday experiences through functional and solution based technology amid COVID-19

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The second wave of COVID-19 cases is compounding the already dire financial forecast for the hospitality industry.

While some bars and restaurants were benefiting from warmer summer weather by serving patrons outdoors or takeout orders from passersby, the cooler temperatures are impacting owners who can no longer stay afloat amidst this novel coronavirus outbreak. Forced to pivot and put in place new procedures that keep both their customers and employees safe, one Black-owned tech startup created the solution a year earlier.

Lavii, Inc. uses the tagline “The Simple Experience,” with the intention of simplifying everyday experiences through functional and solution-focused technology, first in fast food.

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TheGrio​ interviewed Lavii’s founders, CEO Rea Huntley, COO James Bagley, and CTO Marcus Gunn to discuss their new invention, patent-pending smart lockers that makes food pickup contactless and quick.

(L) JAMES BAGLEY, REA HUNTLEY, MARCUS GUNN
CREDIT: LAVII, INC

In July, Lavii Smart Locker technology launched a pilot program where three local restaurants allowed customers to place orders online, receive a text message with a locker number and QR code to scan at pickup to safely retrieve their to-go orders in under 30 seconds.

CREDIT: LAVII, INC

The insulated compartments keep hot food hot and cold food cold, while protecting orders from airborne particles, minimizes exposure with others and solves an efficiency problem of existing bookshelf style rapid pickup stations. After serving 3,000 orders in three months, owners became believers and the team realized their vision is truly a viable solution at a crucial time for the food industry.

Huntley grew up “different” from other young girls as she enjoyed traditionally male-dominated activities like basketball and drumming. She took an interest in tech from being an avid gamer. She remembered deconstructing her Playstation to better understand how it worked.

The team at Lavii is working to establish protective barriers, while breaking them in STEM. Minorities are severely underrepresented in the field, oftentimes due to a lack of resources or access to extracurricular programs.

Bagley, who is a 6-foot-4 web developer, explained that most young blacks turn to the images they see of success on TV due to a lack of exposure to real-life examples.

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JAMES BAGLEY
CREDIT: LAVII, INC

“It’s important for us to champion [STEM,] because growing up in a certain environment, your first thought is sports– especially if you’re a male,” he said. “I want to make the NBA or I want to make the NFL because some of the other things may seem daunting or out of reach, like being a doctor or being a lawyer.”

Fortunately, Bagley did come across a high school computer teacher who turned him on to a weekend web designing course at the community recreation center. “When I was growing up I wanted to go to the NBA and I wanted to be a lawyer,” he said. “Those were the two things that I wanted to do, and I wanted to do them both at the same time if I could– and then I stumbled across computers. I fell in love with being able to create something.”

Similarly, Gunn credits his HBCU professors at Bowie State University for encouraging him, Bagley who was his classmate, and other minority students to truly consider careers in tech.

MARCUS GUNN
CREDIT: LAVII, INC

“The instructors there knew how important it was for African-Americans to break into this space,” he said. “I think that they led those classes with a passion to change the pattern that existed at the time, and they kind of sensed that we, as just African-Americans, were just being left behind. So, they emphasized how important it was for us to have a part in this. I feel like they pushed us harder there than the average professor would have pushed anybody in any other school. I can’t see myself doing anything else now.”

Huntley, who is a triple minority in the tech space has overcome many obstacles her partners couldn’t imagine. “The fact that I’m Black, I’m a woman, and I’m gay I think that makes it even more difficult,” she said.

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REA HUNTLEY
CREDIT: LAVII, INC

“I’ve been overlooked for certain positions, looked over to lead projects. I had one person actually make a comment to me like, ‘yeah I didn’t realize you looked like this’ and I just didn’t know how to take it. I’ve been called stupid. I’ve been called everything under the sun. I guess I take all that stuff and use it as fuel. I had to learn how to speak up for myself, and not come off as too confrontational and not like that ‘angry Black woman’ as people would say.”

This motivation to persevere is why her team loves being under her leadership.

“She kind of changed my perspective on work ethic altogether,” Gunn admitted. “I thought I was a hard worker before and I thought I was dedicated and committed to things, but then I met her. I had never seen somebody say, consistently, ‘I’m going to accomplish this goal,’ and then stop at nothing to accomplish that goal.” Even in the face of setbacks, Huntley has proven time and again that she is committed to getting things done.”

While the restaurant industry fights to stay alive, yet again, a Black woman saves the day.

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