The 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which took the lives of 17 people and injured 17 more, was the tragic impetus for tech entrepreneur Lisa Falzone to launch her latest company, Athena Security.
Athena Security CEO Lisa Falzone with her daughter Ella at a security trade show in Chicago.
“After Stoneman Douglas we were really tired of hearing of crimes and mass shootings,” Falzone said. “As technologists, we thought about how could we create technology for good?”
Falzone and her team, which includes co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Christopher Tiabarra, settled on an object and motion detection system that identifies within 3 seconds when someone pulls out a gun.
“We can send an alert to authorities, police or security guards and get people to the crime scene faster, more efficiently and with better data,” Falzone said. “Our mission is to stop crime and use computer vision for good.”
Falzone, 34, has made most of the lists of rising business stars, including the Forbes “30 under 30” awards in both 2012 and 2013. She grew her last company, Revel Systems, to more than 200 employees and a $500 million valuation before making a successful exit. Revel makes point-of-sale systems that operate on an Apple iPad.
After exiting Revel, Falzone and Tiabarra wanted to create an “extremely mission driven company to help the world and make an impact,” Falzone said.
“We think to make people feel safer is a pretty good thing,” she said.
Falzone was also ready for a change of scenery, having grown up in southern California and having launched her business career in the San Francisco Bay area. She moved to the Texas tech hub of Austin to start Athena.
“It’s definitely smaller than the Bay Area, but really friendly,” Falzone said. “The people are really sweet, less intense, but really nice.”
Athena has about 50 employees and an office in Europe. Falzone said the company has deployed thousands of systems to clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to governmental entities.
Her customers include the New Zealand mosques in Christchurch where 51 people were killed and 49 were injured in a mass shooting last March.
“In New Zealand their response to mass shootings is much more of a doer attitude than us in the United States,” Falzone said. “We don’t do anything.”
Falzone said she has been surprised at the lack of innovation in the physical security industry.
“It’s a good thing for us, but not good for the security of the world,” she said.
The Athena system connects to existing security cameras, picking up not only guns but also knives and “aggressive action.”
A simulated robbery shows how the Athena Security app works.
“Our system can also alert you to falls, accidents and unwelcome visitors,” the Athena website states.
Falzone said security officials get a ping when Athena has detected a gun or other problem, along with a video feed. She says it depends on the customer’s network how fast they get the video, but Athena processes it within 3 seconds.
And what about false positives? Falzone said Athena has done a “ton” of testing to guard against misidentification, including testing by Texas State University that showed the system to be 99 percent accurate.
The university conducted six tests at various locations last May and August, using an assault rifle, a hand gun, and nine non-threatening objects including a water bottle, a broom and a set of car keys.
While finding the Athena security system to be “extremely accurate,” the Texas State University white paper on the study says that accuracy depends on a variety of factors, including the cameras being used in conjunction with the system, the distance of the weapon from the camera, and the “light condition” of the environment.
A view of the Athena Security app screen.
Researchers at Texas State plan future tests of the Athena system in low-light conditions, as well as using the system in combination with infrared cameras and cameras able to scan long distances.
Falzone said the cost of the Athena system is $100 monthly per camera, which she said is 48 more times cost efficient than depending on human beings to monitor security screens.
“Most of these screens are not monitored, the camera is just recording crime,” Falzone said. “We want to prevent crime. To staff a camera system is expensive and inaccurate. Human beings get monitor fatigue.”
One of Falzone’s motivations for launching Athena is very personal.
“I just became a mom and I want to protect the world for my daughter and for everyone’s else’s children,” she said.