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Growing Hartford startup lands Sacred Heart deal

8/22/2016
PHOTO | Contributed
PHOTO | Contributed
Wearsafe's “tags” can communicate through a smartphone from up to 200 feet.
Hartford's Wearsafe Labs, which began selling its mobile app-enabled panic button late last year and soon drew a more than $2 million funding round, has hit its next milestone.

Under a recently inked deal with Fairfield's Sacred Heart University, all 1,350 freshmen will receive a free Wearsafe button, the company told the Hartford Business Journal.

The button or "tag" — typically sold as part of a $5-per-month subscription service — is a discrete way for a user to alert a customized network of friends and family that he or she may be in danger, transmitting location data and audio that network members can use to decide whether a call to police is warranted.

Wearsafe has put an emphasis on marketing the product to college-aged women and their parents. Sacred Heart, whose students are more than 60 percent female, is Wearsafe's first major institutional customer.

"The safety of our students is always our top priority, and we see this tool as providing another layer of protection for them as well as a way to alleviate some of their parents' concerns," Larry Wielk, Sacred Heart's dean of students, said.

Sacred Heart, which has 4,800 total students, said it will also offer Wearsafe for any upperclassmen who opt in by Sept. 15.

David Benoit and Phill Giancarlo, Wearsafe's co-founders, said they didn't anticipate schools or corporations to be early adopters of the company's technology.

But the Sacred Heart deal, an ongoing pilot with a major pharmacy chain (the name of which they wouldn't disclose), as well as a pending deal later this year with the American School for the Deaf, have proven their assumptions wrong.

Meanwhile, Wearsafe, which reports "several thousand users" so far, has been hiring.

Its 1429 Park St. office now houses 19 employees, and Benoit and Giancarlo hope to get to 25 by the end of the year. They're seeking technical talent, like web and app developers, as well as marketers, as they plan an advertising ramp-up later this year.

So far, they've been able to locate the tech talent they need in Connecticut.

"Our goal is to stay in this area. We love it here," Giancarlo said.

The hiring and marketing has been funded by a $2 million round disclosed in January, and Wearsafe is already working on its next round.

Earlier this month, it filed a notice with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission disclosing that it had raised another $710,000 in equity capital out of what it hopes will eventually be $5 million.

Benoit and Giancarlo said the latest round involves some new undisclosed investors.

They're also spending money on their manufacturing operations. The company wants to potentially contract manufacturing of its hardware to more than one company, and have the option to scale up to many more units in the future.

"It's important to forecast accurately and hedge our supply chain and manage any long lead time components that are ultimately incorporated into the device," Benoit said.

Lastly, Wearsafe is beta testing a new capability that will allow users' friends and family network to permit a 911 dispatcher to see and hear all the information they are receiving. Wearsafe hopes to roll out that service — which it says would be free for both subscribers and police — in October.

– Matt Pilon

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that SHU upperclassmen would have to pay to receive a Wearsafe tag. They must only opt in.