The Pitch: "Fire commanders need to know where their squad members are at all times in case of a sudden emergency, such as a structural collapse during a fire. But most fire departments struggle to account for all of their personnel, even relying on plastic ID cards or whiteboards to tally head counts. Our easily deployable system, OnSite ERT, locates firefighters in real time. They wear radio-frequency identification tags that transmit signals to the system's readers, which the squad places at designated areas on scene. Those signals are mapped on the commander's laptop and show the identity and location of each firefighter. Our system can also be used by other emergency personnel, such as SWAT teams. We're raising money to increase our market penetration and enhance product design."
CO-OWNERS: Dennis Carmichael, John Ellis, and Tony Mazzola
LOCATION: Ann Arbor, Michigan
EMPLOYEES: Two full time; two part time
2008 REVENUE: $100,000
2009 PROJECTED REVENUE: $450,000
PRICE OF SYSTEM: $20,000 to $50,000 for the average fire station
NUMBER OF FIRE STATIONS USING SYSTEM: 40 (including pilot programs)
AVERAGE SALES CYCLE: Nine months
FUNDING SOUGHT: $750,000
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I'm generally impressed with ERT Systems's product. It fills an important need, and it is based on technology that is cutting edge but proven, which is a critical difference for a safety product such as this. But the nine-month sales cycle could present a cash-flow issue for the company. It will make it difficult to ramp sales up quickly enough to satisfy venture investors, although it may be more acceptable to an angel investor. ERT Systems should try to find a way to sell more to organizations, such as private fire brigades, that are not in the public sector.
City Light Capital, New York City
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ERT Systems already has a number of installations and seems to have put together a system that works. But $50,000 is a large sum for the majority of fire departments. And the technology doesn't seem very proprietary. To prevent other people from jumping into the market, ERT Systems should adjust pricing so that the system is within reach for most fire departments. To do this, it should take advantage of lower-cost RFID components and consider bundling products with a fire equipment dealer to bring down the distribution costs.
Commonwealth Capital Ventures, Waltham, Massachusetts
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This product addresses a real need, and the pitch is very intuitive. The market, however, is very fragmented. Given the price point, selling directly would be an uneconomic model. I would develop distribution relationships with companies that sell systems to local governments, like HP. I also wonder how defensible this is against competitors. RFID tagging is pervasive. To stay ahead, ERT Systems must advance its technology and understand its customers better than anyone. It will attract investment by showing a pipeline of new prospects.
Executive vice president
Safeguard Scientifics, Wayne, Pennsylvania