ST. LOUIS — Through technology, Michael Kehoe has made it his mission to help make lives easier.
Since 2016, the Decatur native has been executive director of Johego, a nonprofit technology company that he started in St. Louis. Johego was developed to help public servants connect people in need with essential services like overnight shelter, medical assistance and mental health treatment.
The company's main platform is a free smartphone app, Kehoe said, and operates similarly to a phonebook. All of the information stored within the app is organized by several categories, so users can quickly find what they are looking for.
"We are trying to make connecting with these services as easy as finding showtimes for movies," said Kehoe, 29.
Johego was recently announced as a winner of Washington University's Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Competition, which invites budding entrepreneurs to pitch their long-term business plans to a panel of judges. The company tied for first and received $20,000 in funding.
"It was validating," Kehoe said of the award. "Johego went through a very scrutinized process, and the result was encouraging. But success like this adds a burden to be good stewards of of the responsibility that we've been given. We've got the determination to continue this mission."
Kehoe is ready to take Johego to a whole new level, but he's quick to admit that he didn't envision himself running a nonprofit social service.
After graduating St. Teresa High School in 2006, Kehoe studied civil engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He received his bachelor's degree from there, and moved on to Stanford University to earn a master's degree in the same field.
Kehoe moved around the country and spent time working in cities like Seattle and Chicago before finally settling in St. Louis, the city he said felt the most like home.
"It only took a day and a half of living here, and I've felt that way ever since," Kehoe said.
Johego was born after Kehoe watched a member of his church direct a homeless man to a local shelter, where he could get a hot shower and a warm meal. She did it by memory, Kehoe said, but thought an app that could provide similar information could quickly change lives and benefit a wide range of people.
"Not just people like me, but people who day-in and day-out interact with those services," he said. "At that point, I fell in love with the idea, and if I failed, I would have learned something."
Working closely with other local nonprofit organizations, Kehoe worked to prioritize, collect and verify information determined most useful to social service professionals, such as facility locations, hotline numbers and directions.
During that period, about 100 people were trained to use the app, and in turn, they went out and encouraged other people to download it, Kehoe said.
The Johego app currently only displays resources in and around Hannibal, Missouri, but Kehoe wants to continue expanding throughout Missouri and eventually into Illinois. He also hopes that more people who aren't social services professionals will start using the app, too.
To Kehoe, doing so will speak to the nature of what Johego is trying to do.
"That's our goal. More connections for more people who need it most," he said.