ZeroEyes, a startup that uses artificial intelligence to predict potential threats with a goal of preventing mass shooter situations from escalating, pivoted from its initial market of schools last year, as students learned from home throughout the pandemic.
The company found product-market fit in other spaces, such as retail locations, corporate campuses, government campuses, malls and casinos. That led to it raising a $5 million seed round in February. Now, as schools ready for in-person instruction again this fall, ZeroEyes has raised a $20.9 million Series A to keep up with its quick growth.
The round, led by Toronto-based Octave Ventures, brings the company’s total fundraising to $26.1 million. Alliance Holdings and Alpha Intelligence Capital also joined as investors, as well as existing investors Grateful Investment Group and Legion Capital.
Mike Lahiff, president and CEO of ZeroEyes, told Technical.ly that the raise will allow the company to grow by about 15 employees by the end of the year, likely getting the team to about 65 people. Roles across marketing, sales and its operations team, which are those who install the tech onsite, will be open.
It will also allow for more investment into the company’s research and development, AI capabilities and software platform, Lahiff said. As the pandemic has slowed over the last few months, the company has expanded across new verticals, and has started working in schools again.
The startup was founded first in Lahiff’s basement in 2018, and built mainly out of the Pennovation Center in Greys Ferry. It expanded to an office in Conshohocken, and about half of the company’s nearly 50 employees are based locally. Lahiff and cofounder Rob Huberty were both Navy SEALs, and the company does a fair amount of recruiting of veterans, Lahiff said.
Although the pandemic allowed for virtual fundraising, Lahiff said that Octave representatives came out to see ZeroEyes’ office and technology in play. In those in-person meetings, it was easier to feel like the investor would be a good fit.
"Raising capital is like getting married — it's a long term relationship."
“Raising capital is like getting married — it’s a long term relationship,” Lahiff said. “I think that building that relationship in person was key. When you’re on a Zoom meeting with investors, that human touch is just lost. You just get the vibes in a room. It’s different.”
The company now has its technology installed across 17 different states and will continue expanding. While mass shootings at schools have been nearly nonexistent this last year because of the pandemic, gun violence in general has increased. Philadelphia is already ahead of last year’s record pace in homicides and shootings, a trend that followed nationally in 2020.
“It is crazy that it takes a pandemic to stop school shootings,” Lahiff said in February. “We built the system to work with cameras anywhere. A church, a synagogue, local government building, mall — everywhere is low-hanging fruit for someone who wants to go out and create violence. We were fortunate that our system could adapt.”
Michael Kim, founder of Octave Ventures, said in a statement that the startup is in a meaningful industry that has high societal impact.
“ZeroEyes’ world-class and military veteran-led management team has a deep understanding of the security and technology markets. With this investment, the company is positioned to continue its market leadership,” Kim said. “This isn’t only about AI technology to detect weapons — it is about making a significant impact to help save lives.”