Clifton Merchant Magazine - January 2015

Page 63

Old Problem

New Solution Some solutions to problems are so obvious you are tempted to wonder why nobody else thought of it first. That was the feeling that cofounders Ralph Mattiaccio, president, and Christopher Coppola, CEO, had when they began to plan their start-up SHIELDtech ( In their mid-20s, both men completed their master’s degrees at Stevens Institute of Technology in nearby Hoboken: Mattiaccio in computer science and Coppola in mechanical engineering. Stevens is where they met and first became friends and later roommates. Coppola was a teaching assistant while completing his degree, a position that included many late nights. One dark evening as he was walking home to their apartment, an idea hit him while he was fiddling with his keys. “Although, in general, I felt safe walking home, it was dark and somewhat isolated and I thought to myself ‘what if I suddenly felt threatened, how would I react?’” He realized that he would not have time to pull out his phone to call for help and yelling might not work. Because his keys were in his pocket and close on hand, some kind of fob for his key chain to send out an alert signal would be more useful. “Chris walked into the apartment,” said Mattiaccio, “and told me he had a great idea. I was used to him coming in with great ideas, but after some discussion and a little time, the shortcomings of these ideas became clear.” “However,” interjected Coppola, “this time he listened. And he looked serious. He asked good questions. And he said he liked it. And that’s when I knew we were on to something.”

Student security is a major concern for campuses throughout the nation. Over the decades, various solutions have been put into practice, everything from increased lighting and security patrols, to guarded entrances and cameras. On many urban campuses, students were told to carry whistles and mace when walking alone late at night. Yet the recent increase in assaults on campus underscores the persistence of the problem. Coppola’s idea was to use wireless technology and produce a small device capable of sending a distress signal. After some research and planning, the basic bones of the product were established: a fob, that can be attached to a key chain or simply placed in a pocket, when pressed, would connect with an app on the user’s phone via a Bluetooth connection, and in turn, the phone would transmit a signal to campus police identifying student and location of distress. This wireless alert process is called the SHIELDsystem composed of the SHIELDkey (panic button), the SHIELDapp (loaded onto user’s phone that provides vital information), and the SHIELDdash (an alert screen that appears on campus police computers). Mattiaccio knew about TechLaunch. He and Coppola put in their proposal to be considered. Their project was accepted and they were part of the most recent cohort to have completed the program. Currently, SHIELDtech has a provisional patent on their system and the young entrepreneurs are seeking campuses in New York and New Jersey to test their product. Clifton Merchant • January 2015 63