Startups

Startups Work To Make Emergency Communications Faster And More Useful

Unfortunately, the number of global incidents that can be classified as an emergency only seems to be on the rise. However, a slew of startups have emerged in recent years to help enhance communication during such times.

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While this category is still too niche to be quantified using Crunchbase data, we have been able to uncover a number of growing companies in the space who have attracted venture dollars.

Here’s what we found.

Apps That Are Usurping 911

Austin-based AlertMedia, which has created a cloud-based mass notification system that aims to streamlines notifications across devices and platforms, raised an $8 million Series B round of funding earlier this month. This brings its total of venture funding to $17 million since inception in 2014. Austin-based Next Coast Ventures led the latest round, which also included participation from ATX Seed Ventures.

AlertMedia gives its enterprise customers such as DHL, AT&T, Greyhound and H-E-B a way to send and receive critical communications via any channel (voice, app, email, text, Slack, social media) using one mobile interface. For example, an international consulting firm used the system to check on employees working at its Manchester, U.K., office after the Ariana Grande bombing.

In April 2017, emergency technology startup RapidSOS, an emergency technology startup announced the closing of a $14 million Series A round of funding. Highland Capital Partners led the round, which also included participation from A3 Ventures (the innovation subsidiary of AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah), The Westly Group, Two Sigma Ventures, Motorola Solutions Venture Capital, Responder Ventures, and several individuals including three former FCC chairmen.

And in September, Austin-based Zello topped the U.S. app store as the walkie-talkie for volunteers during Hurricane Irma. The company was originally launched in Russia in 2007 under the name LoudTalks. It now has more than 100 million users globally, and made headlines weeks prior due to some seriously heavy usage when Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area.

The free push-to-talk application made it easier to get supplies and work crews routed to places in most need. It was also used by Louisiana’s Cajun Navy (a group of volunteers with boats) to find people who needed rescuing. The company has not raised venture funding, yet it appears to be doing quite well without it.

Zello CEO Bill Moore said there was a twentyfold increase in new users in the Houston area during and after that storm.

“The fact that it’s live voice makes it ideal for communicating during a crisis,” he told Crunchbase News. “Plus, it’s reliable and can be used on a variety of devices.”

Last September, Burlington Mass.-based Everbridge raised nearly $70 million in an initial public offering. The software company provides critical communications and enterprise safety applications to its customers.

Why Reinvent Emergency Communications

Brian Cruver, founder and CEO of AlertMedia, said he came up with the idea for the company after the Boston Marathon bombing, the Newton school shooting and a West Texas plant explosion.

“I was watching them unfold on the news and became interested in how communication was and wasn’t happening,” he said. “I noticed that social media was helping the public know what was going on before news media and law enforcement.”

Cruver founded a team to build a communications platform for warnings and alerts that could be sent via a social media type platform.

Today, the AlertMedia offering is being used in more than 80 countries. Customers include AT&T, DHL, Volkswagen, J Crew, Greyhound, the Chicago Stock Exchange, and grocery store chain HEB. Over time, use of the service has gone beyond typical emergency situations.

“Now, 40 percent of our customers use for day-to-day operations,” he said. “So there may not be typical emergencies you might see on the news but they will use the app for what might be an emergency for their business.”

Currently, AlertMedia has 50-plus employees, a dozen of which were hired in recent weeks. Revenue has grown 20-fold in two years, according to Cruver.

“We’re in hyper-growth mode,” he said. “We’re raising money to build up the company, gain significant market share and to hire like crazy.”

Venture Perspective

Mike Smerklo, co-founder and managing director of Next Coast Ventures, believes AlertMedia “has really hit the nail on the head with an issue that is tangibly affecting people in the U.S. and beyond: crucial necessity and ease of communicating in times of emergency.”

“If you open Twitter or turn on any news network and see Puerto Rico, Mexico City or Las Vegas, you know this is an issue,” he said.

Alert Media has both an SaaS and a monitoring solution. But Next Coast’s investment wasn’t just about the product Alert Media had developed, Smerklo was quick to point out. The company’s mission falls right into the intersection of two of Next Coast’s investment themes: the rapidly changing future of work and full-stack business models.

“We believe the future of work is changing as it relates to mobile workforce, BYOD and multiple communication channels (voice, text, messenger, etc.),” he said. “These changes can make all of us more effective, but they can also make communication even more challenging and overwhelming. AlertMedia provides a clean solution that enables communication across multiple devices and modalities.”

Ideally, the demand for tools to help us communicate during emergencies would decrease. But when they do occur, companies like the ones mentioned above are aiming to make communications easier for all those involved.