By GREGORY ZELLER //
He may have hung his shingle in North Carolina, but tech entrepreneur Greg Artzt sticks close to his Long Island roots.
Artzt, the son of legendary Computer Associates cofounder Russ Artzt, doesn’t dine out on his famous name or his connection to CA, where he briefly toiled on his way up the ladder. Instead, he relies on his white-hot proprietary technology – and his personal knowledge of Long Island markets – as he and his partners build Punch Alert into an indispensable digital-age safety solution.
Incorporated in 2012, Punch Technologies started with a more traditional communications platform before refocusing on emergency situations. Punch Alert, the company’s flagship product and unofficial moniker, didn’t debut until 2014, but it’s already caught on with distributors and an impressive array of end users – including several Long Island firms, with more Island deals in the works.
Punch Alert allows users to quickly report emergency situations by pressing a large red button on their mobile-device screens. The button allows easy, discreet sharing of text messages, photos, videos and other information with registered on-site responders, who can summon professional help as necessary.
The cloud-based solution also includes real-time location tracking, helping responders get where they need to go faster; crowdsourcing content that allows multiple users to share information on the same emergency; mobile emergency-management protocols for official responders such as police and fire units; and an announcement function through which authorities can rapidly distribute safety information.
The newest version – Punch Alert 4.0, which debuted this month – includes Punch Alert Local, a community-based communications platform that lets users share tips (“suspicious person near the library”) and other information.
While Artzt, a Cornell University graduate (bachelor’s in computer science, 2001), doesn’t actively cash in on dear old dad’s fame, he’s clearly a microchip off the old block. Just as his father rose through the ranks as a programmer – Russ personally coded several of Computer Associates’ early products – so did Greg, logging software-design spells with CA and Citigroup, where he created trading and risk-analysis systems.
He later focused on finance, rising through the Citigroup ranks to become a trader and later working for Element Capital, a New York City-based hedge fund, and Long Island-based General Sentiment.
All roads led to Punch Technologies, which Artzt, the company CEO, founded with COO Carole Tobias and CTO Andrew Prisk. It wasn’t long before the partners saw the forest for the trees and re-tasked their communications platform for emergency purposes.
The result: An innovative network that enables interactive connections between thousands of people simultaneously, including witnesses to – and participants in – crisis situations. Basically, Artzt noted, Punch Alert is a much-needed update of the traditional 911 emergency-call system, reimagined for a digitized 21st century.
“The problem with traditional safety-related communications is they’re extremely slow,” he noted. “When you need help immediately, 911 technology that was invented for landline phones gives you an average 10-minute response time at best.”
And voice-only 911 offers nothing, he added, by way of inconspicuous communication, which could be essential in the case of an active shooter, a hostage situation or another emergency that places a premium on discretion.
“With 911, you don’t have a great way to communicate, certainly not silently,” Artzt said. “And [responders] have no real awareness as they’re approaching. So this classic model needed to change.”
The Punch Alert system is ideal for schools, malls and other public facilities, “leveraging the devices in our pockets to enable a completely new paradigm in safety communications,” according to the CEO.
While Artzt and Co. are busily building new platforms that include native applications for iOS, Windows, Mac and Android systems, the basic app is already a hit. Schools, churches and government agencies are among the first customer bases lining up for the tech.
On Long Island, educators have been signing on through Teq, a Huntington-based education-technology distributor that brands the red-dotted emergency-communications platform as Spot. Punch Alert has other channel resellers, Artzt noted, but Teq represents its only white-label deal.
“I’m from Long Island, so I knew the Teq guys through some other connections,” Artzt noted. “When we launched Punch Alert, K-12 was our core focus, so this was a good fit.
“They created a white label, but that’s not really our long-term model,” he added. “Our goal is to have a single application that creates a total safety network. You don’t want to have one app for safety at the airport and another for when you go to school.”
Teq is one of several deals Artzt has helped broker in his old stomping grounds. Punch Alert also boasts a distribution arrangement with Bay Shore-based A+ Technology & Security Solutions, which markets the app under its maiden name, and is finalizing a deal with Suffolk Transportation Service, a private Coram-based school and transit bus company that operates several routes throughout Suffolk County.
“Their reports and communications around bus accidents, getting supervisors to the scene to resolve critical issues, all of that was taking too long,” Artzt noted. “So we’re helping them develop new ways to report accidents and dispatch assistance.”
With the new 4.0 version on virtual shelves and those new systems-specific bells and whistles in the works, interest in Punch Alert “continues to grow,” according to the CEO. The app, which is free for end-users and emergency responders, charges schools, businesses and “other bodies trying to protect their campuses and facilities” to create their own Punch Alert network – a business model that’s proving popular with target audiences including churches and municipal governments.
The Charlotte-based company is also spreading the good by issuing free “invite codes” on a city-by-city basis, allowing individual users to put out a Punch Alert Local call for assistance with something short of a life-and-death situation – a flat tire, for instance – and other networkers to respond.
“With the most recent launch, we’re bringing Punch Alert into communities,” Artzt said. “That’s what PAL is all about.
“We couldn’t be more optimistic about Punch Alert,” he added. “We’ve grown fast over the last six months. There’s obviously a need for smarter and more efficient emergency communications, and we just need to get it into people’s hands.”
What’s It? One-touch emergency communications for mobile devices
Brought To You By: COO Carole Tobias, CTO Andrew Prisk and CEO Greg Artzt (yeah, you know the name)
All In: “A little north” of $1 million in personal and angel investments, according to Artzt, covering “core infrastructure expenses” and employee salaries
Status: Connecting victims, witnesses and responders, one crisis at a time