Carlisle company aims to catch bad guys with a keyboard and a smartphone
Matthew Bloom remembers participating in the Founders Showcase Pitch Competition, an exclusive presentation and competition at Microsoft's offices in Washington for startup companies to lure investors.
His company, Crimewatch Technologies Inc. of Carlisle, was one of eight startups in the country invited to make a pitch.
Bloom, the company's president and CEO, didn't win. But he did get valuable advice from one of the judges, Chris Dixon of Andreessen Horowitz — one of the biggest venture capital companies in the country.
Dixon's words? The best business ideas don't come from a think tank or an effort to come up with an idea; they come from a need seen in real-world experience.
"He basically validated my entire business idea," Bloom said.
Crimewatch Technologies Inc. is now a six-employee information-sharing and intelligence-gathering network for law enforcement that delivers local public safety news directly to its Web, social and mobile platforms, according to Bloom.
Law enforcement departments pay to be members of the site, allowing them to post information that is shared instantly with other member departments and with the public.
The company began in 2009 as Crime Watch Magazine, which focused on subject matter Bloom believed the mainstream media wasn't reporting, such as crime issues surrounding sexual offenders and mental illness.
Circulation problems led to the magazine's demise, but while Bloom was researching and writing stories, he discovered there was very little online communication between police departments when it came to hunting suspects and fugitives.
When the magazine folded in 2011, he approached Ben Franklin Technology Partners in Carlisle for funding for his idea — an interactive online platform for information sharing between police and the public.
"When Matt came in, he told me this long story of things that had happened to him and his business and his plans for the future, and it sounded like he had a lack of focus — but he was very passionate," said Pam Martin, executive director of the Ben Franklin TechCelerator @ Carlisle.
Martin suggested Bloom go through Ben Franklin's TechCelerator program, a 10-week course in entrepreneurship. She said he came out of it with a highly focused idea and has taken that focus into his company to develop the website, mobile application and social media presence for CrimeWatchUS.
"I guess you can consider him a poster child (of the program)," Martin said. "He's done everything that you want a company to do to grow."
The website had a prototype ready for spring 2011, started beta testing in the fall of that year and launched a Dauphin County-specific site in July 2013. Now it has a Pennsylvania-specific site and a mobile application ready to launch in the summer.
Helping law enforcement
The Dauphin County District Attorney's Office was one of the first to sign on to the service and recommend that other departments in the county follow suit.
District Attorney Ed Marsico said his office helped drastically defray the cost for local departments with grant money so that local departments had to cover only about 10 percent.
"(CrimeWatchUS) has become very valuable for us," he said, noting it's helped lead to several arrests in the last year since it went live, though he did not provide an exact number. "It's been a vehicle for us to get our information out to the public. We wanted to update our website at the same time (Bloom) came to us, and we felt we needed a little bit more for our site."
There are 24 law enforcement agencies signed up, with planned expansion into Montgomery and Bucks counties, Bloom said. With the site growing, he is now looking to outside investors to help grow the company and bring on more departments across the state and the country.
"We can launch for every single state today," Bloom said.
The site received a public boost in the winter when the U.S. Marshals Service in Scranton credited an anonymous tip from a CrimeWatchPA user with finding an accused sexual predator.
The man had skipped town before his trial in Wayne County in 2009 and was apprehended Feb. 6 in West Virginia thanks to the tip.
"We've had a lot of those kinds of success stories so far," Bloom said. "A lot of what law enforcement does is protect the public safety. There isn't a lot of time for much else. The efficiencies we provide make it easier for them to do their job."