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Responder Ventures, Amazon Web Services Create Program to Connect Emergency Responders to Tech

The program is called ResponderXLabs, and it's beginning with 13 companies that will focus on back-office work and software that saves time and money.

Venture capitalists see a lot of big ideas that never end up going anywhere. Their game is one of careful risk curation using finite resources — one can’t roll the dice at every opportunity. But one can give those ideas a chance to shine.

Responder Ventures, the young investment firm focused exclusively on technology for emergency responders, is bringing in one of the biggest names in cloud technology — Amazon Web Services — to create opportunities for startups to build up their offerings, gain visibility among potential customers and look for partners.

The project is called ResponderXLabs, a network and showcasing effort for companies both in and outside of Responder Ventures’ portfolio. It’s starting with 13 companies as participants.

“It’s very important in public safety, and in local government in general, for an early-stage company that maybe doesn’t have a reputation that they can stand on by themselves to sell to an agency that they aren’t familiar with,” said Bryce Stirton, president of Responder Ventures. “So AWS provides a level of credibility.”

AWS has recently run into some controversy in the field of law enforcement where it is working with agencies to use Rekognition, its AI facial recognition software. Civil rights groups have declared the technology dangerous and likely to lead to unfair policing practices.

But ResponderXLabs, much like Responder Ventures, isn’t aimed at those kinds of ideas. They focus more on back-office work and the kind of software that saves time and money.

“It can enable agencies to maximize their budget,” Stirton said. “We’re not talking about some DoD-funded, crazy, cyber, out-there idea that no one can afford, we’re talking about clean, simple solutions to improve efficiencies to make their personnel safer, more effective, often time (to) make their jobs more easier.”

AWS is actually just the first partner. Responder is actively looking for other corporate partners interested in working with startups and facilitating connections to join as well.

The cloud computing giant will be working with startups to use its resources. That includes AWS GovCloud, which has FedRAMP clearance and can therefore wear it as a badge of trust for local governments, as well as its Public Sector Marketplace, a kind of app store for government.

The marketplace has Stirton and Responder Ventures CEO Nathanial Wish excited. It can be tough for government offices in general to find what technology is available to them, a problem Wish feels is particularly acute when it comes to law enforcement.

“There’s no one place where an agency can go to look for software,” he said. “They have to search the Web or go talk to neighbors.” 

The program will also involve regional showcases and demo days meant to expose new ideas and companies to the thousands of agencies that are a fraction of the size of the New York Police Department or state police departments but far more numerous.

Credit: Center for Digital Government

“We’re doing regional events and (connecting) with agencies that don’t get to see or don’t get to go to some of the bigger national events, we’re doing demo days that are sponsored by some of the bigger federal agencies, and webinars, and we’re also going online and building a marketplace,” Stirton said.

ResponderXLabs is not an incubator or accelerator where it will take an equity stake in participating companies or charge them to enter the program. It’s purely a space to help companies develop. In fact, the organizers are interested in helping companies that don’t sell to emergency responders too — as long as they’re looking to move into the space.

“It doesn’t even need to be a technology that’s been sold into public safety before,” Stirton said. “You could be a great solution that could be used in public safety, but the ROI hasn’t made sense before.”

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.