“The tragedy that happened in Pittsburgh [last October] was shocking, but what’s more shocking is that with every tragedy, the public almost becomes numb to it,” said Evolv Technology Co-Founder and CEO Mike Ellenbogen. “One of the reasons why we formed Evolv is to stop these from happening and becoming the new normal.”
A company founded by physical security veterans and experts, Evolv is utilizing complex machinery and software to help protect people in large entertainment and sports arenas, transportation hubs, performing arts venues, and tourist attractions. From concert goers to government workers, Evolv’s use of machine learning and facial recognition is helping make the world a safer place.
We spoke with Ellenbogen to learn a little bit more about the history of the company and how their products work. The CEO also shared some advice to other security companies who are looking to raise capital.
Colin Barry [CB]: What are the origins behind Evolv Technology and how did the team come together?
Mike Ellenbogen [MB]: I have been in the physical security space for over 20 years in the Boston area. Evolv is the third startup that I have been involved in this space. A lot of the team members at Evolv have been together for that same amount of time with some of them going back to a company called Vivid Technologies and then to Perkin-Elmer. Some of the team, including myself, went on to start Reveal Image Technologies which created x-ray scanners for suitcases at the airport that automatically detect explosives.
We sold that company around five years ago and went on to start Evolv. We began to look at new technology, much of it had been developed for other industries such as mobile, IoT, and networking, to start addressing the effort to protect soft targets.
The TSA check-ins have a lot of technology and science behind them, and we wanted to apply that to places like stadiums, performing arts centers and train stations. Areas where there are huge crowds that have to move quickly and making sure they get into a safe and secure environment. However, people aren’t going to tolerate waiting in line for an hour as we do at the airport. So, the technology has to detect the threats of concern, but do in it in a way that doesn’t slow things down.
Say it’s 40 minutes before kick-off at a Patriots game. The crunchtime between you, the security, and your seats are very little.
CB: Evolv has two different products; the Evolv Edge and the Evolv Pinpoint. Say I’m a property manager of a building looking to increase security, tell me how each of the products works?
MB: We’ve fused other sensors using AI and machine learning to provide a superior visitor and security experience that constantly scans for bombs, weapons and people of interest without the need to empty pockets.
Evolv Edge is our core scanning and screening system, and we’re using advanced millimeter wave technology, which is high-frequency radio waves. With that, our scanners can send the signals which bounce off of a person’s skin and detect any signatures of threats. It’s similar to the airport body scanner, but instead of it taking a little while, we do it in one-one-hundredth of a second as people are strolling through our system. You won’t have to empty your pockets either, because the system can discriminate between a cell phone versus a firearm.
Evolv Pinpoint is our facial recognition software that we integrated within Evolv Edge, and we use that for a number of different things. For example, if there is a performer at a stadium with a known stalker, a user may want to put information regarding that person into a database so it can look for that individual who may be of concern. The combination of these two allows the security to focus on the most significant threat and help make the experience better for everyone.
The goal is to make the security experience as seamless as possible for the 99.9% of people who don’t represent a threat.
CB: Evolv is taking a different approach to security and is a bit outside of the box when compared to other companies in the Boston tech space. What are some of the challenges that Evolv faces as a company?
MB: Like anybody in Boston, if you’re trying to make strides in machine learning, image processing, and hardware development, hiring the right people is always a challenge.
Since we’re bringing in new technology to the security space, a lot of our customers are excited to see it in action in their venues. Our security is a “show, don’t tell” type of industry, so accelerating the process is a challenge.
CB: Where would Evolv’s technology be used the most?
MB: We have a lot of systems installed at sports and entertainment venues where improving the visitor’s experience is just as important as tightening security. We have operations in transportation, where there are a lot of unprotected subways and train stations that typically deal with large crowds of people, such as the Oakland International Airport. We also have a lot in government facilities and high-security locations.
Lately, we’ve been getting systems installed in houses of worship, like large synagogues. We want to ensure safety to those who are going to pray on a Saturday or Sunday morning.
CB: Last year, Evolv received funding from Bill Gates...not a small feat. Can you share how he was introduced to the company and how the funding process went?
MB: We met with Gates Ventures and his team early-on when we first started. The firm was intrigued by the technology, and they like to fund in companies that are looking to improve the world. They saw the opportunity to grow the company and have been supporters since our first round of financing.
CB: What are some tips you could give to other security companies who are looking to raise capital?
MB: In physical security, it’s best to know your customer and know what value you provide, what’s different, and why people should be going to your product.
There’s a lot of security technology that’s been developed over the years that ends up on the side of the road because it solves a problem that people aren’t focusing on. It’s a very easy lane to fall into. If you’re going to invest the time and effort, as you would with any startup, you should start solving problems that are high on the priority list.