“My in-laws’ elderly neighbor was robbed in her front yard. She had just returned home from a trip to the mall. When she got out of the car, she noticed another car pulling up behind her. A man stepped out, walked over to her and took her bags and purse and drove away. My in-laws felt horrible that she wasn’t able to reach them immediately for help.” — Richard Blackwell, founder, SafeHome Corporation
Editor’s note: AtlantaBeat is a regular feature on Mondays.Richard Blackwell, a serial entrepreneur, is taking the concept of neighborhood watch to an entirely new level.
He calls the concept “the Mayberry effect”, and his goal is to provide wireless alert monitoring systems so neighbors can help watch out for neighbors.
Blackwell’s fourth startup — SafeHome Corporation — is built around a wearable device called NeighborLink that can be used to alert friends or neighbors up to three miles away if the wearer needs help
“For Americans everywhere, there are plenty of good reasons to need a good neighbor today,” Blackwell says. “The Baby Boom generation is getting older. The ongoing threat of terrorist attack makes us all feel more vulnerable. In addition, particularly in larger cities, people wonder whether emergency response teams will arrive quickly enough if a family member is sick or injured.
“Some cities have conducted studies showing as many as 20 minutes can elapse between the time the 911 call is placed and emergency teams arrive at the scene.”
An incident in his own neighborhood helped spur development of SafeHome.
“When my daughter was a baby, we carried around a baby monitor so we could hear when she cried or woke up from a nap. It made me realize how ‘cool’ it was to be able to monitor activity from the outside of my house and even down the street,” Blackwell tells Local Tech Wire. “Then, an elderly neighbor was robbed in her own front yard and it all made sense.”
Seasoned in security field
Security is not a new field for Blackwell. He founded EnerSci Inc, a home automation and security business, as well as International Video Surveillance, a firm that incorporates video conferencing into security and surveillance. He served as chief technology officer at IVCi, a video integration firm, and also worked at Global Scheduling Solutions.
His new company is conducting several trials in and around Atlanta. So far, the results have been promising. “The comments have been very positive and most of the neighbors like the reassurance and peace of mind NeighborLink provides,” Blackwell says. “Nearly each trial participant questioned, without hesitation, said, ‘I would use that product.’ It’s true, the concept is simple and unique.”
The devices, which retail for $99, send out an alert with the push of a button.
“NeighborLink uses standard radio frequency remote control technology to transmit an alert via a button on a keychain to a neighbor’s home, where an audible alarm and a light are activated on a small receiver,” Blackwell explains. “It works independently of monitored whole-house security systems. The signal range is up to three times that of medical alert devices, so a pair or group of neighbors can get the coverage they need — easily and inexpensively.”
LTW had to ask if he was concerned about his product getting mixed up with the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” crowd of devices.
“NeighborLink provides a different solution than the products we see on infomercials in the middle of the night,” he says. “It’s about balancing community and essentially building relationships with your trusted neighbors.
“Maybe it’s a fall that doesn’t warrant a trip to the emergency room. Maybe it’s a signal that the seventh grader next door is home safely from school. Or maybe it’s the simple assurance that when you are out for your morning walk, a network of friends along your route can be summoned in case of trouble or injury. Particularly for adult children whose parents are living independently with some modifications to the routine of their younger years, NeighborLink can provide peace of mind that they can get immediate help from their neighbors when they need it.
“What’s more, the technology is easy to use and requires no monthly monitoring fee. For the 80 percent of Americans who have no home security system, it provides an affordable alternative. And for those who do have home security systems, NeighborLink is complementary technology, added peace of mind that people you trust will be there when you need them — not after a 20-minute wait.”
Blackwell sees interest in the product because of slow response times to 911 calls (10 minutes or more, he says) and the fact that neighbors still care about the folks next door.
“NeighborLink is neighboring the old-fashioned way, harkening back to the days when neighbors could really trust and rely upon each other,” he explains. “What could be better than a system that lets you build your own trust-based network of friends and family?
“With NeighborLink, you select and customize that network — people who know you and your situation, people for whom you can provide reciprocal support.”
The devices were designed in the U.S., are produced in Asia, sand sold through SafeHome’s web site. Blackwell is also exploring the use of other distribution channels. He’s bootstrapping the firm with “monies from my previous business successes.”
“Naturally, any business seeks ways to leverage its ideas and products,” he adds. “To this point, we have been fortunate to have a solution that literally sells itself.”
ROI: Saving lives
His experience with other startups has taught Blackwell a great deal.
“Starting a technology company is definitely not for the weak at heart. You have to be knowledgeable in the area and work in the industry for years to fully experience the ins and outs,” he points out. “It also helps to have continued persistence and public relations to help spread the word.”
While Blackwell is looking to make a profit, he says he will measure success in other ways than money.
“The true measure of success for this product will be the number of lives saved,” he says. “EMS in a majority of the nation’s 50 largest cities save only an estimated 6 percent to 10 percent of the victims of sudden cardiac arrest who realistically could be saved. While NeighborLink can also be used in non-emergency situations, SafeHome’s goal for the solution is to reduce these numbers even more. NeighborLink can enable an individual living alone to summon help quickly, even if he or she can’t get to the telephone.”
Weather on the Go for Sprint PCS
The WeatherChannel is expanding its wireless updates to users of Sprint PCS.
For $3.99 a month, users get a new series of applications that includes more user friendly icons for navigation plus a seven-day forecast and satellite imagery. Other data includes ultraviolet index, dew point, visibility and chance of rain.
The WeatherChannel points out that 88 million of 165 million wireless customers use their phones or hand-held devices for data applications.
For details, see: www.weather.com/mobile
SmartVideo lands two contracts
SmartVideo, a developer and provider of streaming video services, has won two federal contracts.
The company has signed on with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs and the U.S. Navy’s Naval Post Graduate School. SmartVideo says it will provide streaming video services to support international communications programs and distribute educational content to Navy students located in remote duty stations.
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