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Village Defense: FastFWD company is a tech-driven town watch

Communities can use the subscription-based tool to send out alerts via text and other channels if they see something suspicious. The four-year-old company launched with its first Philadelphia customer this Monday.

Sharath Mekala remembers hiding his iPad in the laundry hamper when he’d leave his home in Atlanta. That’s how bad the break-ins were, said Mekala, 35.

That was one experience that led him to cofound Village Defense, a modern take on neighborhood watch built and run by an Atlanta-based team. Neighbors can use the subscription-based tool to send out alerts via text, email and phone if they see something suspicious. The four-year-old company launched with its first Philadelphia customer this Monday: MMPartners, a real estate development company (run by a fellow tech entrepreneur) doing work in Brewerytown that will make the service available to the neighborhood.

Village Defense is one of ten companies that recently completed FastFWD, the social entrepreneurship accelerator backed by a $1 million Bloomberg Philanthropies grant. Each company demoed last Friday at First Round Capital.

The accelerator, focused on public safety, awarded $10,000 to each company, as well as mentorship, training and an opportunity to pilot their product in Philadelphia. That opportunity came in the form of an RFP [pdf] that was due at 5 p.m. on demo day.

The RFP was only open to FastFWD companies, said FastFWD co-organizer Story Bellows, and multiple companies may be chosen for the pilot. Companies will find out if they’re chosen by this Thursday. That’s a quick turnaround for a city RFP, presumably because representatives from the city have spent the last 12 weeks with the candidates.

FastFWD is run by GoodCompany Ventures, the City of Philadelphia and the Wharton Social Impact Initiative.

In the weeks to come, we’ll highlight some of the FastFWD companies. See all our coverage here.

The business plan: Customers have a few options, ranging from $100/month to $250/month. The cheaper plans only include text alerts, while the more expensive plans include email and phone alerts and access to the mobile app.

Tagline: “See something, share something.”

Staff: Three full-time based in Atlanta, including cofounder Nathan Black, and Mekala in Philadelphia.

Pedigree: At 28, Mekala was the youngest vice president of the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board.

The (investor) ask: $350,000 to grow the team. Village Defense has already raised angel-funding.

Applied to RFP to launch pilot in Philadelphia?: Yes. Mekala is also in talks with the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the city’s PhillyRising program and customers in Chester County.

Why he’s staying in Philly for the time being: It’s not Mekala’s style to drop in, launch a product with local customers and leave. “The way you come in is important,” he said, explaining that he wants to work closely with local partners.

Customers?: Yes, in Detroit, Atlanta, Bermuda and now Philadelphia. Homeowners associations are the company’s “bread and butter,” Mekala said.

Read more on AxisPhilly.

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