With her thumb pressed down on the screen of her iPhone, 21-year-old Allison Ryan walked through downtown Columbia on a Friday night in August. Aware of her surroundings, Ryan continued to hold her finger down until reaching her friend’s apartment, where she removed her thumb and entered a PIN to confirm her safety.
Ryan, a University of Missouri senior, was using SafeTrek, a mobile application that calls 911 for users without them having to speak to anyone.
“My dad pays for it,” Ryan said of the app, which costs $2.99 per month. “He has no problem doing that because he wants his kids to be safe.”
The company behind the app, founded in 2013 by a group of MU students, is growing its team thanks to a capital infusion, and it’s expanding its focus from a single mobile use to emerging consumer devices.
In August, SafeTrek completed a $3.2 million round of funding, bringing total capital raised to date to $4.4 million. St. Louis based-Cultivation Capital led the round, which also included West Coast investors Maveron, New Enterprise Associates and Aspect Ventures.
SafeTrek CEO Zach Winkler, who founded the company with Nick Droege, Brittany Dameron and Aaron Kunnemann, said the team will use the funding to integrate with other platforms to make SafeTrek available in any situation that warrants emergency response.
SafeTrek recently introduced technology allowing users to sync their Nest Protect devices to the app. According to Winkler, SafeTrek is in beta testing with Amazon’s Alexa.
An API for emergency response
In its simplest form, SafeTrek is a mobile application available on iOS and Android devices. In an unsafe situation, a user opens the app and holds a finger down on the button in the middle of the screen. If the user releases the button and doesn’t enter in a PIN within seconds, 911 will be notified of the user’s location, name and emergency information.
For Winkler, the mobile app is just the tip of the iceberg.
“The company is an API (Application Programming Interface) for emergency response,” Winkler said. “Other products and services like Tesla or Fitbit can come to us and say, ‘I want my product to dispatch to emergency response,’ and we’ll integrate them to our platform.”
As the IoT (internet of things) consumer space continues to grow with devices like the Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa, app developers are eager to connect their technology with these new products.
“Many research studies have shown, when it comes to consumer adoption of IoT devices and particularly smart homes … that motivations around safety and security are one of the leading reasons people buy,” said Jessica Groopman, an industry analyst and IoT advisor based in Berkeley, California.
When it comes to purchasing an IoT product or service, consumers prioritize security over other considerations, Groopman said.
Trek back to Missouri
Although first developed when its founders were MU students, SafeTrek operated out of San Diego for a brief period of time when Winkler and Droege accepted jobs in California after graduation.
Winkler, now 26, took at job at Intuit in San Diego working on mobile and technology innovation teams. After a year and half, he left Intuit to work on SafeTrek full time.
Droege left his job at a consulting firm to focus on fundraising for SafeTrek, looking for funding to bring the company back to St. Louis.
“They came literally knocking on our door and pitched us in late January of 2016,” said Brian Matthews, co-founder and managing partner of Cultivation Capital.
SafeTrek secured $1.2 million in seed funding in a round led by Cultivation Capital in April 2016.
Growing and evolving
With more than 1 million downloads, SafeTrek’s biggest consumer base is students and young workers ages 13-24, Winkler said.
In April, Washington University in St. Louis purchased SafeTrek for all its students and staff. Winkler said SafeTrek isn’t interested in offering that pricing model to universities any longer because he wants to focus on partnerships.
“The deal with Wash U is they purchased SafeTrek for their students,” Winkler said. “We don’t do that anymore, but we do integration like putting SafeTrek inside the Wash U mobile app or the Mizzou mobile app.”
In the past 12 months, SafeTrek’s product development team has grown from three to 11 people. The company also manages a six-person call center to connect its customers with local emergency responders.
That growing team is working toward SafeTrek’s evolving vision of how to help users protect themselves.
“We want everyone to be walking around in a safety bubble,” Winkler said. “We don’t want people to have to worry about what’s going to happen to them or when they’re in an emergency to have to call for help and send all this information.”