Sometimes startups are about making money. And sometimes they're about fixing the system and improving life.
Madison Campbell is looking at both. Her early efforts--addressing the lack of action displayed in processing rape kits and prosecuting criminals displayed by many cities and states--are getting attention. Just not the type she might want. The Michigan attorney general's office just sent her a cease and desist letter.
The 23-year-old is already a serial entrepreneur having started her first company at 16. Both her mother (accountant) and father (software engineer) were laid off in 2008. Campbell started an online consulting business, booking work for them. "I cold called people," she said. "Then I basically gave it to my dad."
After finishing an undergraduate degree ("I thought I wanted to work at Nasa but that was went Trump got elected and the budget got cut."), she decided on a business in the medical industry and thought of the sexual assault problem.
At least tens of thousands of unprocessed rape evidence kits have sat in backlogs across the country, according to the New York Times. Advocates say the number might be as high as a quarter million.
There are multiple reasons for massive backlogs. One is probably money. According to Campbell, the cost of processing a rape kit can run from $1500 to $10,000. "You look at these cases where they have 40,000, 50,000 backlogged kits," she said. "The government isn't putting enough money in. If the government isn't doing something right, you might as well start doing it yourself."
Her business model would give away kits, particularly at universities (she says five schools have signed on for pilot programs). Revenue would come from using new high-speed DNA testing technology to help reduce the backlog, contracting out to governments with faster turnaround and at lower rates that would still allow for capital investment, expenses, and profit.
There are some thorny problems, though. Any evidence used in a trial has to protect and document the evidence so prosecutors can show there was no tampering. That's where Michigan steps in.
Campbell send Inc a copy of a letter from the state's attorney general's office, demanding that she not sell her kits in the state, although she wants to give them away. The letter also stated the following:
While your website suggests the at-home kit results will be admissible in Court, we are skeptical about that proposition. Your speculation about such admissibility is a poor justification for sales of a product that appears destined sexual assault victims from seeking prompt medical attention.
Campbell admits that the issues are a challenge and says she is working with legal experts to address them. Potential solutions might include kits that would not reopen after being used or having a victim video the steps as proof.
Michigan offers provides free kits for investigations but, then again, it took ten years this August to clear a backlog of 11,000 untested kits found by county assistant prosecutor Kym Worthy in one abandoned evidence warehouse, according to Michigan Public Radio. Her work led to 3,000 closed cases and 197 convictions to date and evidence of 824 repeat offenders.
At least hundreds of untested kits were found in other parts of the state, suggesting there might be something to be said for some public-private partnering. And that maybe there's room for entrepreneurs to do more than just look to make a buck.