Newtown Tragedy Pushes Technology Aimed at School Safety

Non-profit organization creating technology focused on mental health, school safety and gun safety in response to Connecticut tragedy

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Non-profit creating technology focused on mental health, school safety and gun safety in response to Connecticut tragedy. Stephanie Chuang reports.

    Their lives were stolen – 20 first-graders and six adults – at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., six months ago today.

    But one group is pushing for every bit of good to come out of the tragedy: Sandy Hook Promise, a non-partisan non-profit that launched its Innovation Initiative three months ago in San Francisco.

    The goal is to bring investors and entrepreneurs together to create technology and tools that will improve three major areas: mental health, school safety, and gun safety.

    That’s what Georgia-based company SafeGun Technology, Inc. has been working on for the last decade. It already has various versions of a prototype biometric device that can read fingerprints and ensure only those who are supposed to be shooting the firearm are pulling the trigger.

    “Children will not be able to use the firearm,” Charlie Miller, chairman of the board, told NBC Bay Area via Skype Friday. “If the criminal breaks in and takes it, they won’t be able to use it. If the criminal tries to remove our device, it will destroy the weapon.”

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    Six months after the shooting massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, family, friends and supporters gathered to remember the people who lost their lives. They also brought a political message, urging people to revisit the gun control debate. People who are opposed to stricter gun control also showed up to express their opposition to changes in the current laws.

    Miller added it wasn’t until Sandy Hook Promise that there was a real buzz about getting this kind of technology to market. His company just submitted an application to Sandy Hook Promise asking for $3.5 million. He said an investment like that would bring his company to another level – so far, it’s been a part-time gig. Miller works full-time as an attorney.

    “If we save the life of one child – it will be a miracle to that child and anyone that child touches,” Miller said. “And if we were in this for the money, we would have been out of it a long time ago. We are about safety. Our goal is to save lives and that is what we intend to do.”

    Hemant Taneja, a managing director at the Palo Alto office of venture capital firm General Catalyst Partners, said his company is one of the dozens that is involved with Sandy Hook Promise. In the six months since the tragedy, Taneja said, there have been so many ideas and meetings between Silicon Valley investors and entrepreneurs.

    “If either regulation or consumer sentiment forces it to be that everyone wants to purchase guns that are highly secure, want biometrics, think about how many guns are being sold,” said Taneja. “For a company like SafeGun, that’s enormous opportunity. So, I think the market is shifting towards that and technologies are accelerating that shift.”

    Silicon Valley is where the focus is now, both on the entrepreneurial side as well as the money that can turn ideas into real business.

    As for Sandy Hook Promise, one representative said the effort to raise at least $15 million to put into start-ups is still going strong. The group will announce who is getting the investments, how much they’re getting, as well as those who’ve won an incentive prize for brand new ideas in September.