November 4th, 2009 by David E. Williams of the Health business blog
David Williams: This is David E. Williams, co-founder of MedPharma Partners and author of the Health Business Blog. I’m speaking today with Jim Nalley, co-founder and CEO of EmFinders. Jim, how are you today?
Jim Nalley: I’m well David. Thanks for having me today.
Williams: Jim, what is EmFinders?
Nalley: EmFinders is a company that’s dedicated to helping law enforcement in the rapid recovery of people who have a tendency to wander.
Williams: And what sort of folks would be in that category?
Nalley: Those would be folks suffering from Alzheimer’s, other forms of dementia, people with Autism and Down’s syndrome. Brain injury is a growing area, too. It seems to be something with the vets coming back from the wars that we’re in. They tend to wander off and get disoriented.
Williams: You have a product called EmSeeQ Tell me a little bit about how you came up with that idea.
Nalley: Well, the idea actually came from my family and me. We were watching television one evening and we saw a woman who was lost and no one could find her. It had been days.
With my 20 years experience in the telecom industry, they challenged me to come up with some way to locate these individuals in an emergency situation.
Williams: So what does the solution look like?
Nalley: It’s a wrist-worn device that an individual, a caregiver, a parent can put on the person who might wander away. We have a two handed clasp version where the individual can’t remove it themselves. It actually requires two hands to remove and it can’t be cut off with a knife either.
Williams: So if you lose track of someone who has wandered off and you’re worried about them, what happens next?
Nalley: First we want the caregiver or parent to call law enforcement. We’re very, very tight with the law enforcement community; we worked with them to develop the solution. So first they call 911 and then they call our operations center. We activate the device and then the device sends the location information of the wearer directly into the police department.
Williams: So, if somebody calls 911 then I guess they need to know to tell the 911 operator that the wearer has this device. Has that become an issue when people become upset and don’t have a handle on themselves when they call 911?
Nalley: Well actually, we’ve given them quite a few tools to be able to remember those kinds of things. We provide refrigerator magnets and wallet cards to help them with that situation. It’s a matter of education and really we haven’t had any issues with that as of yet.
Williams: Tell me about a success story, a particular example of somebody who wandered off and what the scenario was like.
Nalley: We have done tests with law enforcement and some of our market trial participants. That’s where we really learn about how the system is going to operate. What we’ve learned is that it will supply the freedom to the caregivers that they’re looking for. That’s because it’s not a system that goes through the Internet, it’s a system that works directly with the police departments and emergency personnel and it really provides them a piece of mind. So in reality, the 911 operators in our operations center are very used to dealing with folks in these kinds of situations. We’re able to calm them down, work through the system rationally and then activate the device and then it recovers them instantly.
Williams: I know there are other cell phone based services out there including the iPhone with its location aware apps. Other than the element of having the wrist band that won’t come off easily, is there any advantage of your service over something that’s an existing app on a cell phone?
Nalley: Yes, there actually is. Most of those kinds of apps actually work with a system called GPS, most people have heard of that. The difficulty with that is that is if you had a satellite radio or something when you’re parked in a parking garage it just won’t work because you can’t get the signal from the sky 10,000 or 20,000 miles or however far it is up there, but with our system we’re using the cellular based technology that is just there for the 911 environment. We’re the only company to actually use that. So what we’re able to do is to utilize that system that allows for location indoors, location in dense woods, location in gullies, pipes, where these people are often found or wander to.
Williams: If somebody wanders off, do you encourage the care giver to call 911 pretty quickly or is there another way to track the whereabouts to see if somebody has maybe just wandered out into the backyard or up into the attic? Or do they end up either having to call 911 or be worried about doing so?
Nalley: We do actually encourage them –and the police do as well– to call quickly, because the faster they’re notified the faster we’re all going to find them, even if they’re not wearing an EmSeeQ device. We encourage people to look around: look around your house, look around your neighborhood, but do it fast and then call the police immediately after that because the longer you wait, the worse the situation could get and the farther away they could be, especially if they’re in a car or hitch a ride or catch a bus.
Williams: What do you expect in terms of customers? Is this a consumer product or is it something that you would sell to an enterprise?
Nalley: Actually it’s both. We are looking at institutional sales as well as assisted living facilities, Alzheimer’s wards of hospitals and so on. Our customers are caregivers, parents, and anyone who has a loved one who they want to give a little more freedom to. We can help people to feel independent and still have that piece of mind of having something that if they do wander off, we’re going to be able to bring them home safely.
Williams: What’s the revenue model? Is there a price for the device and then an ongoing service model or what are you intending?
Nalley: That’s correct. We have two versions of the device. One is a standard band, which is worn by someone who might have early onset, who doesn’t take things off. The other has a more advanced clasp. The standard is $185.00. The two-handed clasp version is $225.00. Ongoing fees are $25.00 per month.
Williams: How big do you think the market is for this opportunity?
Nalley: Well it’s a really under served market. There are about 10 million people in the United States alone suffering from one of those afflictions that we talked about earlier and that number is growing. Alzheimer’s is one of the fastest growing diseases in the country right now as the population ages. About 80% of them tend to wander away.
The police departments, they’re really excited about it as well. They spend about $10,000 every time one of these searches is conducted. In the US that’s about $1 billion a year that’s just spent looking for folks with dementia or other forms of wandering. So it’s a pretty big number and hopefully we can achieve some real cost saving in the municipalities and also save some lives.
Williams: Do you expect that you’re going to have some evolution of the product or the service over time? I suppose one of the benefits of it now is the simplicity, but I’m wondering if you would expect if we look three, four, or five years down the road that there would be some enhancements.
Nalley: Oh absolutely. We’re going to stay on top of the technology and we’re going to continue to evolve the technology to make it better. That’s our goal to provide solutions to a group that’s been under served. It’s a group that has been forgotten a little bit and that’s what we’re here for. We want to help take the search out of search and rescue and really protect these individuals and provide some more freedom to these parents and caregivers who wouldn’t have it otherwise.
Williams: How do you expect to be available? Is this something that people should be able to pick up in a retail store, through mail order? Will it be sold directly, or will it be available through some associations?
Nalley: Well actually right now it’s all online at our website, www.emfinders.com but we do plan on partnering with some associations and some other areas. It might be in retail stores at some point in time.
Williams: I’ve been speaking today with Jim Nalley. He is co-founder and CEO of EmFinders. Jim, thanks so much for your time.
Nalley: Thank you David.