Ron Conway, one of Silicon Valley's most prominent investors, wants to see start-ups throw their creativity behind a different problem: gun safety.
Gun control has become one of the hottest debates in politics and recently a new--and unexpected--face has entered the fray: Ron Conway, the prominent Silicon Valley investor best known for his early backing of tech companies like Google, Ask Jeeves, and Pay Pal.
On Thursday, Conway announced the launch of a new initiative in collaboration with Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit organization formed in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last December.
The Sandy Hook Promise Innovation Initiative is a call to action for companies and entrepreneurs to create safer technologies for the firearms industry, as well as address issues like mental health, school safety technologies, and gun detection systems. A group of investors, business owners, Sandy Hook families, and tech innovators gathered in San Francisco for a town hall-style meeting to discuss the plan.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee emphasized that the intention of the meeting was to discuss "real solutions, and not the politics we're used to."
Following the Newtown shootings, Conway helped to establish the Technology Committee to Reduce Gun Violence, a committee of venture capitalists committed to investing in companies that work to prevent gun violence.
According to Conway, the Innovation Initiative will have two prongs: a solicitation to entrepreneurs for solutions to the systemic problems surrounding gun safety--like the use of big data analytics to predict crimes, or a smarter way to go about supporting mental health; and a challenge to innovators to submit technology prototypes for building safer guns.
Newtown parents like Jeremy Richmond and Jennifer Hensel expressed the hope that this effort will prove less controversial--and more effective--than legislation.
Mike Hammond, legislative counsel for the Gun Owners of America, greeted the news less optimistically.
"Our initial reaction is skepticism about the motivation," says Hammond, who fears that the intention of the initiative is to "create an impetus for gun control" where legislative efforts have failed. Hammond worries that by introducing biometric technology--or fingerprint-locking systems--as a standard for new weapons, the initiative will effectively eliminate or complicate the sale of guns in certain areas.
Rob Cox, co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise, doesn’t see it that way. He likened the current climate to that of the early automobile industry, citing Volvo as an example of how technology and elevated safety standards could transform an entire industry. Cox says that the initiative seeks to develop for-profit solutions the Silicon Valley way: by thinking outside the box.
Conway, for his part, echoed the sentiment. “We want to find the next Google or Facebook that builds a company around brain health or preventing gun violence,” he says. Then, he adds, he wants to fund it.
His Technology Committee plans to meet on the 14th on every month to "hack solutions" and honor the memory of Sandy Hook's victims.
FRANCESCA FENZI reports on entrepreneurship, technology and small business news from San Francisco. Her work has previously appeared in TIME, USA Today, Pop City and The Northside Chronicle. @FrancescaFenzi