8902 Red Hawk Circle, Mt. Pleasant
Innovation: Wearable LED personal safety device for emergency personnel
Mount Pleasant-based startup company 425 Inc. recently launched its new Guardian Angel product line, a compact, wearable LED-lighted device that aims to bring a new level of safety and security to first responders, law enforcement, military and other emergency personnel.
The 5.2-ounce Guardian Angel device is slightly larger than a smartphone and can be worn on top of the shoulder. It has 22 Cree LED lights that rate up to 900 lumens, all of which are controlled with the push of a button.
“(The Guardian Angel) is visible from over two-plus miles,” said Juan Gomez, co-founder of 425 Inc. “One of our selling points is, you see firefighters, police officers and construction workers wearing a reflective vest, but those reflective vests are only visible for 250 feet. We give them two-plus mile visibility with the (Guardian Angel) device. Not to mention, with reflective vests, you need light to see them. With this, you can generate light and you can turn it off if you need to. It also gives an officer control over his/her visibility, where a reflective vest doesn’t – he’s just a moving reflective target. With this, he or she can go stealth mode and turn it off.”
Gomez served as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve for 17 years and worked at Racine-based S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. as an environmental technician and firefighter for more than six years.
Gomez sees the Guardian Angel device – which sells for $199 individually and can be purchased for less in bulk – as something that can take the place of reflective vests, offering increased visibility and giving its users more control over when and how they can be recognized.
“We increase (first responder and emergency personnel’s) visibility by creating this device,” Gomez said. “Our intention is to hopefully save a life one day.”
The device is powered by a rechargeable lithium ion battery that charges just like a cellphone. There is also versatility in the lighting functions, allowing for lights to flash and cycle in various ways for an emergency situation, or to be used similarly to a flashlight with a direct beam.
While Gomez focuses on the business side of the company, co-founder Kevin Matte, a former Milwaukee Police officer, invented the product.
“We designed the Guardian Angel to continue to provide the official recognition first responders have in their vehicles, no matter where they are,” Matte said. “Initial police departments whose officers have tested the Guardian Angel have reported not only enhanced safety for their staff, but better interactions with civilians who can immediately determine who the officers or emergency personnel are in a crowd.”
Gomez said a significant amount of prototyping and research went into the final product.
“The institute of police research stated that officers want to be more visible than they already are with their reflective vests because of the risks they run of being hit by a car while they’re doing a traffic stop,” he said. “But with a reflective vest, it hinders them access to their duty belt. Now, we give them this device that they can wear on the shoulder of their uniform, it frees up everything.”
Gomez worked to refine 425 Inc.’s business by going through Milwaukee-based VETransfer’s (now Global Entrepreneurship Collective) Victory Spark startup accelerator program for veterans this past spring, which came with a $15,000 grant at the program’s completion. Gomez said getting involved with VETransfer and having the mentorship of its co-founders, Greg Meier and Nick Wichert, was “instrumental in helping us move forward.”
“Utilizing VETransfer really helped us narrow down who our market is, what we’re doing, our sales channels, and what it takes to get (the product) to what we’re selling now,” Gomez said. “From there, we were able to get focused, streamline the product, get it produced and manufactured and then really set it off. And now, we have a big array of products that we offer – not just fire, EMS, military, but also construction workers, search and rescue, extreme sports enthusiasts, runners, bikers, etc.”
One of 425 Inc.’s first customers was the City of Racine, where the product was used this past summer.
“The City of Racine used it over the 4th of July weekend on the lakefront where they do fireworks,” Gomez said. “A little girl got lost and separated from her grandparents. One officer was with the grandparents and the other officer found the little girl. They were separated by a few hundred yards and the officer turned on the Guardian Angel, and the grandparents and their granddaughter were able to see each other.”
Gomez said he’s also talking to officials with several other cities and law enforcement agencies, including Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. He said this spring they’ll also be targeting construction businesses and other companies where workforce safety is a factor.
“The main response we get from everybody when we see this project is they can’t believe someone didn’t create it already,” Gomez said. “It’s not a want, it’s a need. We’ve had a lot of great support for this product.”