ALTOONA, Pa. — Penn State Altoona business and entrepreneurship alumnus Matthew Pettinato and his business partner, Andrew Brandt, are developing ALERTech — Artificially Learned Emergency Response Technologies — using artificial intelligence to create new and improved emergency response solutions for private and public institutions and businesses.
The current 911 emergency response system in the United States was developed in 1968 for landline telephones, which were tied to specific addresses. Now, with most people in the United States making 911 calls from cellular devices, the outdated 911 system often may not provide an accurate location of the person in need.
The pair was inspired to look at how they could improve the national emergency response system when a close college friend of theirs died in 2017. Before launching ALERTech, they developed a “panic application” for smartphones called WithU that easily connected college students directly to campus police in the event of an emergency.
“The problem WithU solved is the lack of technology on campuses to pair students to the campus police in the event of an emergency and easily find them,” Pettinato said. “Our GPS location solved the issue of poor location services within a 911 call.”
Pettinato and Brandt took WithU through the Summer Founders program at Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank the summer of 2019. Summer Founders provided them with funding to spend the summer working full-time to build their startup. They also received expert advice and mentorship every step of the way.
“Summer Founders was the first time we had any sort of direction from experts who had done something like this before,” Pettinato said. “Being in that program really helped us see our vision and get a better grasp on our sales strategy.”
Through weekly coaching sessions with entrepreneurs and industry experts, Pettinato and Brandt determined their sales strategy for WithU was not on track and decided to take a hard pivot at the end of the Summer Founders program towards a broader research development approach.
“The Summer Founders program focuses on helping startups define the desirability, feasibility, and viability of their ventures,” Lee Erickson, chief amplifier at Happy Valley LaunchBox, said. “More times than not, this process leads to a ‘pivot’ for the company. Sometimes they are small adjustments; other times they are big changes. It is this process that helps to de-risk the company and increase their chances of success.”
Since moving away from WithU to focus on research and development in the emergency response space, ALERTech has started developing Risk Vulnerability Assessment (RVA) technology to help physical locations such as companies, schools, churches, and hospitals keep up-to-date on their physical location’s safety.
ALERTech is working with the federal and state governments, ERTCA (the Emergency Response Training and Certification Association), other safety-focused businesses and partners, and major corporations to work towards more advanced response technology.
“An in-person RVA currently can take years to set up and then weeks to conduct by a member of law enforcement,” Pettinato said. “We are providing this evaluation in a much more timely and simple manner, without the need of a specialized member of law enforcement.”
Pettinato said a lot of the success ALERTech is seeing right now is due in large part to his willingness and ability to network with people in the industry, a skill he attributes to his time taking part in Invent Penn State programming.
As a student at Penn State Altoona, Pettinato was able to take advantage of entrepreneurial programming across the commonwealth-wide innovation hub ecosystem. In addition to the Happy Valley LaunchBox Summer Founders program, Pettinato participated in the Penn State Altoona Sheetz Fellows program, a program which ignites the entrepreneurial mindsets of students by fostering creativity, critical thinking, leadership, and problem-solving skills through mentorship and networking opportunities. ALERTech also took first place in the Penn State Altoona Pechter Business Plan Competition.
“Matt has always been driven, well-prepared and passionate about his idea,” said Donna Bon, director of the Sheetz Fellows program and director of the Altoona LaunchBox supported by the Hite Family. “He researched the need in the marketplace and did his customer discovery and made adaptions along the way. He took advantage of every opportunity to talk about his startup. He listened when his mentors gave him advice and made adjustments as necessary. He has the true entrepreneurial spirit.”
Pettinato's business partner, Andrew Brandt, also presented at the 2019 Venture and IP Conference as part of the Student Startup Showcase.
“As a whole, Summer Founders really blew everything out of the water,” Pettinato said. “It did a really good job of forcing us as business owners to lay everything out and really understand where we were taking things. It was really a turning point for us — every day we got to dissect our business like we never had before, and it made us ultimately that more confident to go ahead and pivot our business.”