A Look Back at How We “Evolved” in 2020

By: Neil Sandhoff, VP North America, Evolv Technology

While last year was filled with an abundance of sadness, uncertainty and civil unrest, it’s important not to overlook accomplishments and successes. As we put our 2021 plan into motion, I’d like to highlight the key awards, news coverage, launches, customer achievements and key lessons from 2020 that have set us up for an outstanding 2021. But first, I’d like to say how grateful we are for our customers and partners; you continue to put your trust and confidence in us to keep your visitors and employees safe.

January…Making Strategic Moves for the Year Ahead

At the beginning of 2020, Evolv made several strategic moves to scale operations and meet the unprecedented demand for free-flow weapons screening by raising $30 million in growth capital from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and others, promoting Peter George to CEO and expanding our research, development and productization efforts led by Co-founder Mike Ellenbogen. 

Finback Investment Partners

Little did we know that those moves would help us keep our doors open through the pandemic and establish our market leadership among security screening companies worldwide, setting us up to assist venues and facilities to safely reopen throughout the year. As 2020 momentum was building, we were recognized as a great place to work, honored as one of Built in Boston’s prestigious Best Small Companies to Work for in 2020.

February…Working Towards our Mission of Making it Safer to Learn

One month into the year, we took huge strides in living our mission of making it safer to learn by partnering with two South Carolina school districts who installed Evolv’s AI-based, free-flow weapons-detection systems. Taking proactive measures to keep students safe was paramount for both school districts, given the increasing frequency of school shootings and related incidents. Dr. Mark Smith, Director of Student Services and Safety at Spartanburg 6, the first school in the nation to use Evolv’s AI-based free-flow weapons detection system stated, “We wanted to incorporate security technology not because we had any incidents, but because we wanted to ensure we never have one. I’d been researching security strategies and next generation technologies searching for a solution that delivered optimal security while providing a welcoming, non-prison-like environment for everyone on campus. I’d been coming up short until I discovered Evolv. They checked all the boxes.” As much as that statement meant to us, the most meaningful moment of the deployment was having a student walk over after the initial installation and say, “thank you, I finally feel safe.” That’s why we do what we do. It was Spartanburg’s ability to see beyond “the norm” that set all of this in motion and established a new baseline of security for schools across the nation.

March… Unprecedented Achievement for Evolv…and the Pandemic Took Hold

Just weeks after launching Evolv Express™ in school districts, and as the pandemic sadly began to spread, we were honored for outstanding campus security services and products, by being recognized by Campus Security & Life Safety with a Platinum Perimeter Protection and a Gold Screening Equipment 2020 Secure Campus Award. One week later, as we settled into our “work from home” routines, we were awarded the world’s most revered innovation award, a Gold 2020 Edison Award in the Threat Defense and Security Category.  Winning an award of this caliber against elite competition worldwide was a true honor for everyone at Evolv.

April…Regrouping and Re-Engineering to Address the Pandemic Health Threat

In April, as all non-essential businesses shut down, or started to find a “work from home” rhythm, we saw a massive increase in factory worker hiring and an increase in uncertainty, civil unrest and the start of ongoing violence. We also saw a shift in security threats.  No longer were CSOs and COOs worrying solely about weapons as threats, now they had to worry about health threats as well.  Our executive team was refining our strategy, while engineering and product management started reshaping our roadmap. Security screening as we knew it was probably changing forever, and our solution was more important now than ever before.

While it would have been so easy to become stuck in what we coined, “the COVID fog”, our employees rallied together, hunkered down and worked even longer hours to serve our customer mission globally and sustain manufacturing.

First on the list for our updated product roadmap was to evaluate and build an add-on thermal imaging package to help venues and facilities spot individuals with elevated skin temperature who might be possible health threats. While our support team managed calls assisting venues with reallocating systems to different locations, our marketing team developed a customer spotlight program to drive awareness and business to customers online, and our Customer Success Team established a Best Practice program for customers, setting up customer meetings to field questions, help share trends and lessons learned across industries as everyone worked together to keep our various communities safe. And while the teams were hard at work, working remote and assisting customers meet the new security demands, we were honored by the Tech Tribune as a 2020 Best Tech Startup in Waltham

May…Time for Adaptive Recovery

Throughout the uncertainty of the pandemic, we continued to be surprised and honored, and in May we earned a spot on Inc. Magazine’s 2020 Best Workplaces List, where they recognize successful businesses that value company culture, offer standout worker benefits and prioritize employee well-being. This award helped shine a light on why we all love working for Evolv…it’s a family and we all are driving towards the mission of keeping people safe. Our customer partnerships are an extension of that family, and we knew we had to do everything possible to help venues and facilities adapt and recover. We were lucky enough to be able to call on one of our Advisors, Juliette Kayyem, to host an hour-long webinar discussing the adaptive recovery process for schools, workplaces and ticketed venues.  She was able to offer hundreds of venues and facilities strategic guidance into how to adapt and recover during this unprecedented time.

June…Reopening America with Touchless Security Screening

Since the launch of Evolv Express, interest in the free-flow, respectful, fast screening had been strong.  What we hadn’t focused on until the pandemic was its “touchless” capability. Because Express offers free-flow screening, and drastically reduces the need for secondary screening, we realized that Express was the only screening solution out there that enables social-distancing at entrances while still screening people as they walked in the door.  And, in June, we were grateful to help reopen some North American sites with touchless security screening starting at Six Flags locations nationwide, Set Jet and several others.  Together we were reimagining security in the recreation space.

What once was a “nice-to-have”, was now an imperative. People refuse to be touched. People cannot and will not stand in lines. And, Express was and is the one solution that enables safe screening at a distance. It was an ‘Aha!’ moment for all of us…

July…Taking the Temperature on Thermal Imaging as Touchless Screening Demand Surges

As customers such as Georgia Aquarium, Six Flags Theme Parks and others reopened throughout the summer with Express systems in place, we saw a demand surge for touchless security screening. We also were hearing of many other new security tactics and operations solutions enabling touchless guest experiences that were being adopted by our customers. We called upon Anthony Rivera from Georgia Aquarium and Todd Fasulo of Wynn Resorts, to host the webinar “It’s Time to go Touchless”. Their years of experience in both security and hospitality left us with a number of important takeaways, including: 1) Adopt a culture of relentless innovation; all things can be improved upon; 2) Think “five-star experience” as you approach every step of your guest, visitor or employee journey; and 3) Engage your full leadership team, ensuring public safety AND public health are organization-wide strategic imperatives.

In keeping with the notion of “going touchless”, Evolv was thrilled to launch our thermal imaging package for Express. Venues and facilities could now screen for both weapons and elevated skin temperature in an integrated, touchless fashion ensuring safe screening for all involved.

August…A Global Partnership is Announced and Cultural Institutions Begin to Reopen

In August, we announced a global partnership with STANLEY Security, the world’s second-largest electronic security company. As a result, organizations receive unparalleled expertise and the full spectrum of value-added services from the two combined companies. Shortly after our partnership was announced, we were honored by Campus Safety Magazine with the Campus Safety Best Electronic Systems Technologies (BEST) award for the “Inspection & Detection Equipment” category. As CEO Peter George stated, “As classrooms begin to reopen, public officials, administrators and security professionals alike share a commitment to do so safely. Keeping people safe is Evolv’s core mission and we’re honored to be recognized by Campus Safety magazine’s 2020 BEST awards for the tremendous value Evolv Express brings to campuses nationwide.”

Just as schools were beginning to reopen and find a “new normal”, so too were museums and cultural institutions, such as those in New York City. Our customer success team spent the month working with customers like The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History and several others to ensure a smooth and safe reopening.

September…A Golden Ticket to Safety and the Rise of the Digital Threshold

In September our teams were now in full swing working with customers nationwide as they slowly and carefully reopened, several of which were proudly showcasing new attractions, exhibits and entrances. One such customer was Hersheypark, who used the shutdown time to finish rebuilding a brand new entrance for a better customer experience including the incorporation of touchless screening to eliminate the need for person-by-person manual bag checks. With metal detectors, it typically took the park four to five seconds per person for screening, regularly followed by hand searching of bags or other personal items, so not only was this a welcomed change by park guests, but the park’s security professionals emphasized how easy it was to learn and use the system while optimizing their staff resources.

As mentioned earlier, Six Flags also updated their entrances, in fact, they won an Amusement Today Golden Ticket Innovation of the Year Award for their entrance improvements which included incorporating Evolv Express for park guest screening.

By mid-September, we had spent months talking to customers, analyzing market trends and watching nationwide violence and civil unrest hit new highs. We used that newly found knowledge coupled with expertise in both the physical and digital security spaces to build a new vision, one where the physical and digital security realms merge, and our CEO published “The Rise of the Digital Threshold” piece illustrating our thoughts on security of the future.

Rise of the Digital Threshold

Tied to that new vision, we launched a webcast series called Digital Threshold Live where Co-founder Anil Chitkara talks with security, operations and guest experience professionals about emerging trends, lessons learned and so much more.

October…The Current Threat Environment and Reopening Safely

Kicking off the month of October, we held our first episode of Digital Threshold Live. In the first episode, Anil talked about safely reopening New York’s premiere arts venues with Keith Prewitt, Chief Security Officer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lisa Schroeder, Director of Finance, Performance and Campus Operations for the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and Thomas Slade, Senior Security Director for the American Museum of Natural History.  

Our second episode was held three weeks later where Anil sat one-on-one with Managing Director of Corporate Safety and Security for Hershey Entertainment and Resorts, Jason White, to discuss trust and confidence being the foundation of delivering an exceptional visitor experience. In each of these episodes, Anil and the guest speakers covered a variety of topics related to public safety, public health, the customer journey and the path back to normal.

Mid-way through the month, we proudly sponsored Counter Terror Business’ CTB365 event where our European Sales Director, Nathan Bailey, gave a virtual keynote presentation around “the current threat environment and the need for layered security strategy”, and then Co-founder Anil Chitkara joined esteemed security professionals and advocates in the final Panel Discussion & Round-up featuring: Philip Ingram, Figen Murray, Rick Mounfield, Paul Jeffrey, Gary Simpson and Nick Aldworth.

While a majority of outdoor ticketed venues were finding ways to reopen throughout the summer and fall, many of our beloved performing arts venues, stadiums and indoor arenas were unfortunately dealing with a different situation. Many sports venues allowed the games to take place, but they were without fans and most of their employees, such as Manchester Arena. For some performing arts venues, opening up was highly dependent on location. For instance, Omaha Performing Arts Venue was able to reopen in October after installing Evolv Express as their new security scanners to eliminate close contact between employees and attendees and changing to cashless transactions.

Others, such as Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, created an online community for arts lovers to enjoy music and live performances virtually in what they call “Lincoln Center at Home”. Others took innovation and “thinking outside the box” to a new level. Dr. Phillips Center decided if people can’t be inside to see the performances, they’d bring the performances outside to the people. And, in October they announced their new series “Frontyard Festival”, an all-new outdoor, six-month long festival for downtown Orlando that started in December. Front Yard Festival features live entertainment in a safe, socially-distanced environment, using Evolv Express as part of their security operation.

November…Time for Research

While we are in constant communication with venues and facilities throughout the world who provide a wealth of anecdotal information, we were thirsty for formal data.  To help venues and facilities with their planning assumptions for 2021, we decided it was time for market research. With Harris Insights we embarked on a survey. This Harris Poll was conducted online with more than 1,500 American adults who have a personal stake in the security screening experience: consumers who attended ticketed events in 2019 (n=506), parents of school-aged children (n=712), and workers at large factories, warehouses and distribution centers (n=504). Anil and Erica Parker, managing director at The Harris Poll, reviewed these research results and discussed the implications for workplaces, schools, ticketed venues and other facilities in mid-November in Episode 3 of Evolv’s Digital Threshold Live webcast series.

December…Putting a Bow on 2020

In the beginning of the month, Mahesh Saptharishi, CTO at Motorola Solutions, joined Anil in Episode 4 of Digital Threshold Live: “Why Technology Convergence in the Digital Threshold Matters” to talk about the technological possibilities at the intersection of sensors and AI, exploring the business drivers, the technology and ultimately the effect on humans. He told us that “Machine learning are the core algorithmic capabilities that power AI,” and with regards to physical security, “when cameras, or when systems, see things, detect objects or respond to what the objects are doing in the scene, that is artificial intelligence, but that ability to detect and the ability for that system to adapt to the environment is powered by machine learning algorithms.”

In December we received three honors. Frost & Sullivan recognized Evolv with the 2020 North American Technology Innovation Leadership Award for Evolv Express™ publishing a full industry report. BostInno named us one of Boston’s hottest startups with an Inno on Fire 2020 Blazer Award; and we were awarded a 2020 Platinum ‘ASTORS’ Homeland Security Award from American Security Today.

To tie a bow around what we learned from 2020 and put it to work in 2021, Anil welcomed Courtney Adante, President and Security Risk Advisor, and Jonathan Wackrow, Managing Director and Global Head of Security from Teneo, a global CEO consulting and advisory firm to join him for Digital Threshold Live Episode 5 – Resilience Is A Competitive Necessity: Learnings From 2020 And Considerations For 2021. Resilience is central, it’s an organization’s ability to respond, recover and rebound, and the challenges of 2020 have made it abundantly clear that resilience planning is critical.

Looking Ahead to 2021

Throughout the year, several themes emerged among our customers and their industries: 1) touchless solutions are the key to building confidence and customer reengagement; 2) sharing lessons learned across institutions and venues within one’s industry is a true treasure; 3) a layered security strategy is the only way to adapt and recover from any tragic event; and 4) the security landscape and the CSO’s role has changed forever.

As we move into the second week of 2021, I hope you and your organization are able to use what we’ve learned to build a more robust security infrastructure and customer experience for 2021.  We look forward to our continued partnerships and for those who haven’t yet reached out to have a conversation, I’m only an email or phone call away. And, don’t forget to check back periodically for the latest Digital Threshold Live event.

Cheers, here’s to a successful and safe 2021, and thank you for entrusting us with your safety.

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