Innovation to end gun violence Ara Bagdasarian & Callye Keen
Ara Bagdasarian, the founder of ZeroNow, is passionately dedicated to putting an end to fatalities caused by school violence. ZeroNow aims to tackle this issue through collaboration with various stakeholders, including technology giants like Microsoft, to drive innovation and investment in school safety. The organization recognizes the fragmented nature of current approaches to school safety and strives to establish a unified voice and set of standards to achieve a common goal of zero harm on school campuses. Bagdasarian's co-founded company, OmniAlert, plays a crucial role in this ecosystem by providing technology solutions for emergency communication and gun detection. With the integration of AI-powered visual gun detection, OmniAlert's system can quickly identify firearms and trigger automatic responses, such as locking doors, alerting law enforcement, and notifying individuals to seek safety. ZeroNow aims to foster a community of like-minded individuals and organizations, including students, parents, safety leaders, school administrators, and technology companies, who share the belief that zero harm is attainable. By joining the ZeroNow movement, individuals and organizations have the opportunity to contribute to the conversation and work towards creating a safer environment for schools. With a strong focus on collaboration, innovation, and leveraging technology, ZeroNow is confident in its mission to eradicate school violence and ensure the well-being of students and staff.
[00:00:00] Callye Keen: Welcome to the SI impact series. Today I have Ara a, before I jump into it, what are you passionate about right now?
[00:00:07] Ara Bagdasarian: I'm passionate about ending, , fatalities with due to school violence.
[00:00:12] Ara Bagdasarian: Absolutely committed to, to that mission right now. And I know that it can be accomplished. I feel more confident today that can, that can be accomplished despite all the news in the la in the number of incidents. But I know that we can, um, we can get there.
[00:00:25] Callye Keen: Wow. That is, is so relevant to right now cause it seems like every other day.
[00:00:30] Callye Keen: I hear on the news there's an incident, there's another incident. And so when I saw what you're getting into with Xero now and leveraging some of your tech experience and those connections and pulling it together, I was really impressed. So I'm, I'm very excited for you to be on the show because, And so ideas like pulling together that consortium with Zero now, or Omni alert, taking those things and applying it to our environment or our society or , how we interact with each other.
[00:01:01] Callye Keen: we have more leverage. And so, I'm really excited about this. What is the, other than it's right in the name zero now. , can you tell me a little bit more about, , what that is and how that's going?
[00:01:11] Ara Bagdasarian: Sure. , it, it really started, it really, it's been a, a 10 year plus conversation that I've been having with, a friend of mine, , Joe Sam Maha, who lost his daughter Rema on the Virginia Tech, , shooting back in 2007.
[00:01:25] Ara Bagdasarian: And, um, you mentioned Omni Alert. So I'm the co-founder of Omnia. We created the first, , mass emergency notification system back in 2003, 2004. So students can receive a text alert if there's an emergency on campus. And this was way before we started having mass shootings, right? This was, this was in the early two thousands.
[00:01:43] Ara Bagdasarian: And Joe and I always talked about how, you know, really after, after 2007, just how school safety and campus safety was fragmented. , there we lack of unified voice. Everyone's doing their own thing. You've got different organizations doing the things. , nonprofits, you've got technology companies doing their thing, but really we really lack that.
[00:02:00] Ara Bagdasarian: that unified voice, the standards in really pulling things together to, to work together to achieve zero harm, , to school campuses. So, , we started right at the beginning of Covid. I hired a c e O for omni alert, , in 2020 and started the, started the journey with Zero Now in March of 2020, right when we went under lockdown or quarantine with Covid.
[00:02:22] Ara Bagdasarian: Which opened up a unique opportunity because most of the people that I was reaching out to were home. , they, it wasn't a matter of chasing people down and, and you know, with travel and trying to schedule face-to-face meetings, everyone was home. We'd hop on a zoom meeting and talk about zero now and how we can collaborate.
[00:02:38] Ara Bagdasarian: And so, um, in just about year and a half, we're coming up on our second year right now. We've got. A number of amazing, , companies like, like Microsoft and Johnson controls, access Omni Alert as a founding partner, obviously, , we are working with the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement and naspa, the Families of Virginia Tech.
[00:02:55] Ara Bagdasarian: , so we're really pulling together all these different stakeholders to work together to collaborate, to drive ideas, innovation and investment, to advance school safety. Wow, that's
[00:03:06] Callye Keen: fantastic. I'm a big proponent of collaboration because I. Feel like we can't, no matter, even Microsoft, right? Fantastic organization.
[00:03:16] Callye Keen: Huge wide range of things that they're involved in, but they can't do everything. You know, you can have the best ideas in the world. You can't do everything. So pulling together that collaborative. , group or that consortium, It's amazing what can come out of that. So I, I really respect it.
[00:03:31] Callye Keen: It's not the easiest attack to take and consensus building and that community building takes time. But I, , to me, I think that's the only way to do it, is there constraints that you see that collaboration helps you overcome?
[00:03:44] Ara Bagdasarian: Oh, yeah. Well, so what's what's interesting is that we, frame this under the concept of collective impact, right?
[00:03:50] Ara Bagdasarian: We all, we all have our goals, we all have our objectives, and as commercial companies, , we, we have our. Objectives. And we do, you know, every company that that is considered for zero now is vetted. We have a, a, a committee that reviews all the companies, make sure that there's alignment. , and we have, like I mentioned, like nonprofit organizations, but, , but the key is that collective impact.
[00:04:10] Ara Bagdasarian: How do we, how do we work together? How do we collaborate? We even have, we've got competitors that are in this, but we don't look at what, what another's competitors. It's. Okay. The, the, the cause the mission is more important than our individual purpose as a, as a for-profit company. Nonprofits obviously are also very engaged with this, but, um, it's just the, the challenges are really, , you know, how how do we move things forward more quickly?
[00:04:35] Ara Bagdasarian: And really through this collaboration, we've, we've really started to focus on what are some things that. Schools can do, , to take steps right now, pro proactive steps to increase the security of their, school campus. And we're, we're creating this thing called the Path to Zero, which is an easy to, to digest, , framework.
[00:04:53] Ara Bagdasarian: Almost like a baseline. Like here are the things that, that any school board director, superintendent, principal, , college or university can, can start on right away to help. Guide them step by step to get to at least a baseline of safety that that improves the current state of being at their current, , school or campus.
[00:05:11] Ara Bagdasarian: That's
[00:05:12] Callye Keen: great. Can you explain to us how Omni Alert fits into that, whole solution set? And just a little bit , about this, because I want everyone who's unaware to know about. I'm an alert one, but two, I know that a lot of our audience are tech people, and so from a tech perspective, you know, you're, , you're playing to my, uh, heartstrings here because you're have impact, but you're also doing something that's fairly technical, which I love that too. So, I wanna just dive into that and everybody is really interested in AI and ml, so I don't wanna give away it too much, but can you just tell us how this works and how that fits into the ecosystem solution that you're presenting?
[00:05:53] Ara Bagdasarian: Absolutely. And, you know, part of the ecosystem, so I mentioned, , you know, technology innovators like Omni Microsoft Access Axon, , you know, Johnson Controls, right? So, and we have, like I mentioned the nonprofit but also. We're, we're, we're looking to attract, the innovators are, if you're familiar with Jeffrey Moore's, , technology adoption lifecycle and crossing the chasm, those, those visionaries mm-hmm.
[00:06:16] Ara Bagdasarian: Those early adopters, the ones that need to be first with any new technology. Those are the, those are the education safety leaders that we're attracting to our community. And it really is very much a, a community of stakeholders. Right. And so where Omni Alert fits in, so when we started Omni Alert back in 2003, 2004, We introduced this concept of sending mass text alerts to cell phones, and it was such a new concept back then because I and I sometimes carry a phone with me.
[00:06:42] Ara Bagdasarian: I don't have have one with me. No, but a little flip phone. But that was the state of the art back then. But most people couldn't understand why anyone would want a text message sent to their cell phone, right? A cell phones were making phone calls. We would hear, and schools would just shut the door in our face.
[00:06:56] Ara Bagdasarian: Like, no, this is a horrible idea. This, we've, we've had some, uh, ideas we've heard in the past. This is probably by, by far, the worst idea. And it wasn't until really the, the Virginia Tech, , event , that. Change the whole paradigm. Like why can't we communicate instantly with students? And so, mm-hmm.
[00:07:11] Ara Bagdasarian: That was a, that was a major milestone. And then fast forward to, , about three or four years ago in working with, , with, with Chad, who just, you just recently had in a show, but bringing to market, we've always heard from our customers. So we've, we've, we've always evolved the emergency communication side of thing, look with text messages.
[00:07:27] Ara Bagdasarian: We, we added automation. So if there's an emergency, like from your watch, you know, I'm sure you know a lot of, uh, techies on here. You know, I like to say that we turn everyday heroes into real world superheroes. So if you ha, if you're a school administrator and you, you need to lock down your school cause you knew something was happening, you could flip open.
[00:07:42] Ara Bagdasarian: Your watch hit lock down and within seconds everyone gets alerted. Your website is updated, parents are notified. Doors are locked. , all these things happen simultaneously, but we've always heard from customers, well, you know, we're, we're concerned about active shooter. How do we prevent active shooter?
[00:07:58] Ara Bagdasarian: How do we keep people out of harm's way? So that's where, , we introduce gun detect, which is AI powered visual gun detection, which can identify a firearm within a matter of seconds, and you could automate that entire response within a matter of seconds. And so a common scenario that we're trying to drive is a, is a standard, is to secure the perimeter of every school, every campus, every house of worship, every.
[00:08:21] Ara Bagdasarian: Building should have surveillance, security cameras running, visual gun detection, cuz you look at some of the most recent mass shootings at schools that the assailant walked up to the school with an exposed firearm. In fact, the last one in Covenant school in in Nashville, the individual was outside for almost two minutes with a gun exposed.
[00:08:39] Ara Bagdasarian: And if you're able to identify that gun and then automatically lock the doors, notify first responders, law enforcement, let people in the building know that we are under lockdown. barricade yourself in the room, whatever the protocols are that can save lives. And what we always talk about Kayleigh, is that we want to, first of all, prevent an event from happening, right?
[00:08:59] Ara Bagdasarian: We want to prevent an event from happening in the first place through early intervention. See something, say something. There are ways to find help for that individually before they actually do something. But if we fail to do that, How do we prevent harm from happening? And we do that through early threat detection using omni lurk gun detect.
[00:09:15] Ara Bagdasarian: So you detect the firearm, you automate the response, and, and then hopefully people are kept outta harm's way. The ceiling can't even enter the, the building. So that's, that's such a critical piece. And I, and I go back to the early, , the visionary, early adopters, bringing those folks, bringing those, those customers, right, the, the people that are the visionary safety leaders at schools or college campuses into the Zero now community.
[00:09:38] Ara Bagdasarian: Helps create those connections, helps them steer the, the direction of products before they're commercialized because they're working directly with, with Omni Alert and Microsoft and Axon and Johnson Controls and all these amazing companies. But collaborating with the people that are actually using these tools to keep people safe.
[00:09:55] Ara Bagdasarian: And so we're, we're building those collections. We always say that we facilitate collaboration with our partners to drive ideas, innovation and investment. So hopefully that kind of frames it a little bit for you. That that
[00:10:06] Callye Keen: does, I think that does it quite well. So you mentioned a couple of times visionaries, forward thinking people.
[00:10:15] Callye Keen: And I understand in that context, it's really entrepreneurship or someone in an organization that says, I can be a leader. I can solve this problem. And absolutely a hundred percent necessary for our world to change for those companies or those organizations to be successful. But I also think of this as your work with entrepreneurs and with those innovators that are coming up with new ideas or founding new businesses.
[00:10:42] Callye Keen: And I know that you've done quite a bit of work in that area. can you speak to that? Uh, how do people kind of follow your lead here and maybe pursue an idea or a passion and then let that go down to where, where it can go form a business around it, some something that allows for change.
[00:11:00] Ara Bagdasarian: Well, and that's the thing is to actually build something, I learned the hard way. I mean, so back in the.com boom. I had a web development company and, and building, building websites for startups. , it has a great idea like building this online marketplace to connect, , small businesses, , together so they can, you can exchange, , products and goods in.
[00:11:18] Ara Bagdasarian: Over a year just refining the business plan, refining the business plan, and world market direct.com never even happened because I was focused so much on the business plan versus just building a, a prototype, an mvp. In fact, , I would recommend to, you know, entrepreneurs that, that have an idea and a concept to create it first.
[00:11:36] Ara Bagdasarian: Start with the end first, like, don't. Start beginning, like write the market strategy, this and that. What is, what are you, what are you envisioning? Create a prototype and see if there's interest in that. Going back to when we first started Omni Alert, , we didn't, we didn't build the thing. We built a, , a because I have a web background, I built a mockup of what the interface would look like, and we went and, and we shared it with a, with a, a community co college, Anne Arundel Community College, , back in 2003 and said, Hey, this is what the SY system can do.
[00:12:05] Ara Bagdasarian: You type in your message, you click send Bam. Thousands of people just got a text alert and from that prototype they decided to purchase the system, and then we built it. , rather than building it and then trying to find a market for it, right? That, that's, that's backwards. And I know that, the MVP approach, um, we were calling it creating a prototype back then.
[00:12:23] Ara Bagdasarian: But, , but starting off with, with an mvp, a, a product and seeing if there's, before you invest too much time, too much money in building the full thing out and adding features to this, this thing. Start with the core. What problem are you solving? Cause if you're not solving a problem, then you have nothing, , of value.
[00:12:38] Ara Bagdasarian: I mean, it's, it's just about problem solving more than anything else. So
[00:12:42] Callye Keen: smart. It's amazing the quality of feedback that you can get just from a well-crafted landing page, right? a simple website is the same as your pitch, is the same as a lot of the other materials that you need to move forward.
[00:12:54] Callye Keen: But yeah, a lot of people are really interested in detailed business plans cuz they think they need to get funding or they need to do X, Y, Z. But I don't know, I. I think it's really fear of getting in front of somebody and say, explain this, and then you can't explain it. At, at the end of the day, that's gonna happen no matter how long you've spent not talking to someone.
[00:13:16] Callye Keen: So, well
[00:13:17] Ara Bagdasarian: just, that's the thing that needs to be simple. We always use the, the phrase it needs to be Fisher Price. I have an awesome nextdoor neighbor, uh, seven years old, and if, if, if I cannot explain to him a concept, then, then I'm back to the drawing board. And, and I was able to explain to him about the, the, the work we're doing and, and I gave him a challenge coin and he was pretty excited about that.
[00:13:37] Ara Bagdasarian: But, but the thing is though, if if the problem you're solving is not clear, it's not apparent. If it's not large enough, then, then there really isn't anything there. And that's, and, and so the, with the gun detection, for example, I mean that, that obviously is a, is a major problem. when we were, , bringing this to market during C O V I D.
[00:13:52] Ara Bagdasarian: , the market was solely focused on covid safety. When you talk about safety, it's all about covid. And, , but we were just completely focused on gun detect, getting it completely built, integrated automation, all of those things happening. , and obviously right now it's, it is, uh, it's. It's a major problem.
[00:14:08] Ara Bagdasarian: It's, it's the fact that you turn on the news. That's all that you hear about is mass gun violence. Mass gun violence, and how do we prevent this from happening? Like I said, I mean, you know, from a, from a technology side, you know, preventing an event is critical. You know, if, if, cuz safety is a community thing, but if we can't do that, how early can we detect a threat and then automate response so people have a, have a head start.
[00:14:30] Ara Bagdasarian: It could be a minute, could be two minutes, could be 30, even 30 seconds as an eternity in a situation like that. That's phenomenal.
[00:14:37] Callye Keen: Alright. Thank, thank you so much for the conversation and the time today. I know you're, you're a busy guy. You have a, you have a whole world to change. You have a lot going on.
[00:14:46] Callye Keen: I see there's a guitar in your background, so you probably, I. You know, need to stop talking to me and get some free time so you can, so you can play and do all the other things you're passionate about. Before we go, do you have any parting words of wisdom for our audience? We've got startups and tech people and, and hopefuls and VCs listening.
[00:15:07] Callye Keen: Can you give us a, a nugget for the end of the
[00:15:11] Ara Bagdasarian: show? Oh yeah. I mean, I was just, I actually, I just had, uh, coffee this morning with a student that I've been mentoring for a number of years, and he's got a new idea and what can we just discuss, starting with the end, mock up what this, this new platform looks like, start with the end and then work your way towards that.
[00:15:30] Ara Bagdasarian: So I think that that's, that's critical for, for, you know, for any entrepreneur, any, any techy, you know, figure out what this thing, mock it up, don't. Don't start coding and building things from, from the, the, the code level, built from the ui, the ux. So then you can figure out how that, how that's gonna work, and if it's even worth pursuing and investing the time and actually building the thing out in the first place.
[00:15:51] Callye Keen: I love that so much. There's not enough time in the show for me to tell you why that's as, as right as it is. But, , how can people engage with you and your mission? \, if they listen to this, what's the next steps that they can take to help Zero now and help what you're passionate about right
[00:16:09] Ara Bagdasarian: now? Thank you for asking because, so, like I mentioned, zero now is a stakeholder community.
[00:16:14] Ara Bagdasarian: So we have, we have students, right? Uh, we have, we have parents, we have safety leaders, we have school administrators. We have, , folks from Homeland Security and, and Secret Service. You know, we have, , technology companies like the, like I mentioned, Anyone that is, is passionate about school safety and has ideas that can help advance school safety can go to zero now.org.
[00:16:35] Ara Bagdasarian: We are community. There's no, there's no, we're a membership based organization. It's a non-profit, but we're membership based and there's no cost for students, for professionals and, and other folks like a hundred bucks a year. There's no cost for the first year. But because we want to engage people, and if you don't see value in this, then you don't have to continue.
[00:16:51] Ara Bagdasarian: But, uh, it's a very active group. So just go to zero now.org, click on community and you could join, , the Zero Now Community, the Zero now Mute Movement online and be a part of the solution cuz we. We are, I'm just gonna throw 1, 1, 1 date at you. 1958, was a very important year because that was the last, that was the last time that, , there was somebody died in a school fire.
[00:17:13] Ara Bagdasarian: And so we are confident and after having these conversations with the Zero Now community, all these safety experts and visionaries and, and pioneers, I'm more confident we, we had the name zero now because we're gonna get to zero. We're gonna get to zero fatalities caused by violence in schools. That seemed like a very lofty, yeah.
[00:17:29] Ara Bagdasarian: Right. Okay. That's, that's too big. But I'm more confident today than I was. Two years ago that we can't actually get to, to zero, just like we did with, with school, , school fire deaths cuz of technology, the way buildings were designed, training drills, materials, all these different factors went into, it wasn't just one specific things.
[00:17:47] Ara Bagdasarian: Fires never went away. Fires still exists, but we have. The ability to get, get people out of harm's way when there is a fire in a school or any building for that matter. We can get there. So if, if people believe that they, we could get there as well, please join the Zero now community and we'll be a part, be a part of this conversation.
[00:18:01] Ara Bagdasarian: All right.
[00:18:02] Callye Keen: Fantastic. And we'll put all that information down in the description so people can get involved. Our thank you again for taking the time to be on the show.
[00:18:12] Ara Bagdasarian: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.