St. X grad on 'personal mission' with gun-detection startup

Athena Security aims to neutralize active shooters
Posted at 10:38 AM, Nov 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-30 12:09:52-05

CINCINNATI — It’s a long way from the John R. Green Company in Covington to the startup scene in Austin, Texas. Michael Green made the journey as part of his “personal mission for safety."

The St. Xavier High School graduate, who sold the family’s school-supply business in 2016, joined Athena Security in 2019 as its president and co-founder. Now, he is trying to build a national customer base for a gun-detection system that alerts police when a weapon is deployed in a public place.

“If there is an active shooter, seconds absolutely matter,” Green said. “We’re combining lots of sensors. It’s next-generation metal detection. It’s able to scan people really quickly, 60 people per minute. So, it’s incredibly fast.”

Green is selling the system into what tragically seems to be an ever-growing market. Gun violence has claimed more than 40,000 lives this year, including 650 mass shootings in which four or more people were shot or killed in the same incident, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a Washington, D.C.-based research group.

As of Nov. 28, the number of mass shootings in the U.S has eclipsed last year's total of 611, which itself has more than doubled since 2014.

“There is nothing simple about gun violence solutions,” said Mark Bryant, co-founder of the Gun Violence Archive. “I’ve been in this for nearly a decade, and there is absolutely nothing simple about it.”

Bryant said retailers and entertainment venues are looking for new ways to defend their properties against gun violence, but they are reluctant to use metal detectors at the front door.

“You get all sorts of false positives,” Bryant said. “You get things that are not guns. And then you get all the people that have guns that are not doing anything nefarious. So, you start getting a bottleneck at the front of your store, people are going to go to other stores.”

Green said the Athena system solves many of those problems by combining the use of cameras and artificial intelligence to separate the hardened steel in guns from other metallic objects, including keys, phones, watches, belts and batteries.

“It allows visitors to walk through at a natural pace,” Green said. “We can also provide analytics for how many people are getting a nuisance alarm, how many people need additional screening. We can help businesses decide what kind of security they provide and when they provide it.”

Green said the system costs $1,500 a month for a main-entrance metal detector and iPad camera. Its software can also be used on additional security cameras for a monthly fee of $100 per camera. Both systems can alert customers when a gun is deployed in a public place and quickly distribute pictures of the incident to security staff and police.

“We’re going to help identify who exactly that shooter is, what the physical description is, what direction of travel they’re in, what kind of weapon they’re carrying and send that picture to the police immediately,” Green said.

The gun-detection system was Athena Security’s original product when the company was launched by two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs in 2018. In August 2020, it added temperature detection to its list of options, providing companies with a way to check if visitors were bringing COVID-19 into their buildings.

It’s just the latest evolution for Green, who grew up in Anderson Township and played football at St. X and Harvard University before joining the family business in 2006. For decades, the John R. Green Company sold school supplies and furniture from a four-story building in Covington’s Mainstrasse Village before the company was sold in 2016 and the building was converted to loft apartments in 2019.

Green relocated to San Francisco after the sale. He worked for three years on an application to combat money laundering before meeting and partnering with Athena founders Lisa Falzone and Chris Ciabarra, who are best known as the founders of Revel Systems.

Their Silicon Valley startup created an iPad-based cash register system that was the first to enable retailers to accept payment cards with security chips and pin numbers. The company raised $130 million from investors before a private equity firm gained control of the company in 2017, replacing the founders with new management, according to TechCrunch.

Athena Security has raised $5.6 million since its 2018 inception, according to Simform, an Austin-based consulting firm that ranked the company 8th on its list of the “Top 50 Startups in Austin to watch out for in 2022.”

The company’s website proclaims the goal of the founders is to make the world safer with technology that detects threats without bias.

“When she started a family, she knew that she had to do something to reverse the growth in school shootings,” said Falzone’s bio. “She founded Athena so that her daughter could grow up in a safer world.”

Green had his own personal epiphany that led him to buy in to the founders’ vision. Back in 2010, Green bought a four-bedroom house on Mulberry Street, which overlooks Over-the-Rhine. One week after the purchase, Green was on the rooftop deck with a cable installer when gunfire erupted below.

“We both hit the deck,” he said. “All of a sudden, echoing in my head were my mom’s words, ‘It might be a great economic upside, but that’s nothing if you lose your life.’”

Green said he developed “a personal mission for safety” after that experience, which was followed by other incidents in which he heard gunshots on the streets around his Prospect Hill home. Green obtained a concealed carry permit and started walking house guests to their cars when they visited.

“It’s kind of deep within me to be a protector,” he said. “I saw the opportunity with Athena professionally to do the same.”