Why I Started Evolv: A Q+A with Co-Founder and CEO, Mike Ellenbogen
By Melissa Cohen, Vice President of Marketing –
I recently sat down with Mike Ellenbogen, our CEO and co-founder. We discussed his career path, what’s to come in the security industry in 2019 and Mike’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. See what Mike had to say.
Melissa Cohen: Mike, you have a lot of experience launching new companies and building something from the ground up based on a new idea. You did this with both Evolv and your previous company. Can you tell us about an accomplishment that shaped your career?
Mike Ellenbogen: Absolutely. I love building things and always have. I had a eureka moment that triggered the inception of my first company, Reveal Imaging. After new legislative requirements for airport security screening were put in place following September 11, I realized it made sense to employ smaller, less expensive systems and connect them together via a network of PCs. We rethought the way checked baggage was screened in the U.S., considering the total cost of the systems as opposed to just the cost of the technology. Ultimately, Reveal Imaging was acquired by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) in August 2010. I’m immensely proud of the work that team did and grateful for the experience – it’s really helped shape who I am today and is what motivated me to keep going and start Evolv.
MC: Based on your extensive experience in the security business, what do you think makes a good CEO in the industry?
ME: There needs to be an inclination to push beyond the conservative approach that is so common in the security industry. There are plenty of businesses out there with the “same old” security technology that’s been around for decades. I like to push the envelop and ensure that my company is offering something that solves a problem while also surprising and delighting. I think it’s important that a security industry CEO sees the world that can be rather than replicating what’s already out there or being happy with the status quo.
MC: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in building either of these businesses and how did you overcome it?
ME: The core technology at both companies was/is really complicated – millimeter wave imaging is a challenging field, so is Artificial Intelligence (AI). Of course, you have to have technology that works in order to have repeatable and reliable customers that you can pursue. Leading an emerging technology company and inventing fundamentally new technology, there’s inherently a lot of pieces you have to glue together. It’s daunting and the success of the company is reliant on a deep understanding of the physics of the real world and how to appropriately push the boundaries of electronics and processing.
With any new technology or applications, there is also a steep learning curve among your teams. An engineer may be familiar with the technology, but not with the application. On that note, another challenge is finding the kind of people that can help move the physical security technology industry forward. We look for people with credibility, who have energy and creativity, and can also help move the needle.
MC: What are some of the biggest trends and themes you’ll be watching for in the security industry in 2019?
ME: We’ll definitely see further integration of AI and facial recognition into more security technologies and applications. Disparate AI capabilities will need to be packaged in a way that is more useful for customers in 2019. We’ll also see an increase in compute power at the edge, for example, more compute power within security cameras rather than via a central/integrated service. And, I know people have been saying this outside of the security industry for years, but we’re going to see expanded use of the cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS) within security technologies. While this has already started, some major shifts in this space are coming.
MC: Let’s do some rapid-fire, fun questions. How would you describe your leadership style?
ME: I like to think I present a vision of what could be to get people behind that vision – you need people to believe in the vision to engage them in getting there. Considering I’m focused on solving problems in a new way, I also recognize that it’s important for me to surround myself with people who are optimistic but real.
MC: What is your top productivity hack?
ME: I live my life multi-threaded, which I think is just another way of saying that I’m always trying to be efficient. I do a lot of different things in parallel. For example, I turn the coffee pot on before I get ready for work so that it’s ready when I leave. I take pride in maximizing my time like this.
MC: What piece of advice would you give your younger self?
ME: I always wanted to run a company and invent something – this desire was within me from a very young age. I would tell myself you need time to see the opportunities in the market, so find an industry you really love, make it your own, and word incredibly hard at it.
MC: What motivates you?
ME: Every day I’m motivated by the vision that the technology we’re working on is important and helping to save lives. As I mentioned before, I also love building new things and, in doing so, helping to bring success to the people around me.
MC: What best practices can you share for future leaders who are looking to start a business?
ME: It’s all about the people. Whatever your path, you’ll be spending a lot of time in the trenches with them, so you better like them. And of course, expect the unexpected!
Evolv Edge Wins R&D 100 Award
By Melissa Cohen, VP of Marketing at Evolv Technology –
As we near the end of 2018, here at Evolv we’ve been reflecting on recent accomplishments and challenges – and resolving to find more ways to keep people safe in 2019. Momentum around Evolv Edge™ continues to grow, and the positive feedback from the industry and our peers is propelling our team forward into the New Year.
Most recently, Evolv Edge was named a winner in the R&D 100 awards. This prestigious award recognizes the top 100 revolutionary technologies of the past year across five categories and we are honored to be named a winner in the Safety & Security category.
Since 1963, the R&D 100 Awards have been considered the most globally prestigious recognition of invention and innovation. Past winners include sophisticated testing equipment, innovative new materials, disruptive chemistry breakthroughs, and new consumer products and technologies spanning industry, academia and government.
After spending three years developing the Evolv Edge and testing it in the field with users and government testing labs, it is rewarding to see the system receiving various awards and industry designations. In addition to the R&D 100 award, Evolv Edge was recently recognized as a Gold Winner in the metal/weapons detection category of the 2018 ‘ASTORS’ Homeland Security Awards from American Security Today. Evolv Edge also achieved the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) SAFETY Act Designation and completed operational testing and evaluation by Safe Skies.
We are committed to designing a system that takes the hassle out of people screening. Whether our system is scanning guests and employees at a sports stadium, a performing art venues or an international airport, it consistently scans everyone for bombs, weapons and persons of interest without the need to stop and empty their pockets. The end result is a superior security and visitor experience that is designed to fit into an organization’s personalized security plan.
Our systems have screened millions of people globally and that number is growing every day. As we set our sights on 2019, we look forward to new opportunities that will enable us to continue putting safety first at a time when the threat landscape is ever changing.
Another Troubling Twist in Terrorism
By Anil Chitkara, Co-Founder and President –
The security of our country, our workplaces, and our people has taken a significant turn for the worse over the past 48 hours. The unpredictable course of terrorism has changed yet again, with an expansion of the target set, modification of the means, and synchronization of multiple acts. These most recent course changes should cause us alarm.
Soft Targets Expanded from Locations to People
The 2012 Aurora, Colorado movie theater attack, the 2015 San Bernardino, California office building attack, and the 2016 Seaside Park, New Jersey bomb signaled a shift in targets from airplanes and iconic settings to seemingly innocuous locations in small towns and cities throughout the U.S. Earlier this week, pipe bombs were sent to a businessman, top current and former government officials, and an actor. Another pipe bomb was found yesterday at the CNN offices at the Time Warner Center in New York City.
Targets have expanded to include anybody, at anyplace, in anytown, USA. Who’s next? Where will the target be? Will it be another pipe bomb, or something else designed to thwart our current capabilities?
Explosive Weapons Have Changed Yet Again
The “traditional” explosives once used have given way to homemade improvised explosive devices. This week is not the first-time homemade explosives were used. The 2013 Boston Marathon pressure cooker bomb and the 2017 New York City explosive belt were constructed in an individual’s home. The pipe bombs sent this week were reportedly made of plastic PVC pipe and contained glass shrapnel. These materials are of additional concern as they can be more difficult to detect with much of the security technology that exists today.
The weapons being used by terrorists continue to expand, with new configurations of explosive devices, firearms such as 3D printed guns, and knives concealed in ever more ingenious ways. Detecting these threats as they are concealed on individuals has become increasingly difficult, as most security technologies have not evolved at the same pace as the targets they are designed to detect.
Large Number of Simultaneous Targets
The third troubling concern is that eight reported attacks have been launched over the past 48 hours. The expansion of the target set obviously expands the potential impact of these devices, creates an enormous burden on our law enforcement and counter terrorism professionals, and elevates concern among the general public.
While these developments in terrorism are concerning, American counter terrorism, law enforcement, and security professionals are world class. They continue to work diligently to identify suspicious packages, safely secure people, and remove these devices. They are also actively utilizing all available resources to identify the individual(s) responsible for these heinous acts. They will continue to work to keep us safe. They will continue to fulfill their mission with the utmost skill, professionalism, and effectiveness.
By providing these professionals with technology that helps them stay abreast of the latest terrorist evolutions, including technology that can detect the nonmetallic elements found in this week’s pipe bombs, companies like Evolv Technology can help level the playing field by keeping people safe. While new technology is being rolled out in many venues, more needs to be done. Our adversary will never stop innovating. Neither will we.
A Wake-up Call About Non-Metallic Weapons as Tools of Terror
By Mike Ellenbogen, Founder and CEO –
There’s probably a reason the pipe bombs sent to two former Presidents and other politicians, an actor and a businessman were made of PVC piping instead of metal and contained glass shrapnel rather than nails and bolts.
It’s because the bomber knows that the world’s weapons-screening infrastructure for the last 30 years has been based on metal-detection equipment. Indeed, anyone considering committing an act of terror probably knows this as well. It’s well-documented on radical sites on the Web, where it’s easy to find guides on how to build non-metallic bombs, including in articles in ISIS’ online magazine.
We don’t know yet why none of the bombs exploded but based on our initial analysis of photos in the media we see no reason why they couldn’t have. They have all the necessary basic components. It’s possible the bomber chose not to activate a triggering device and just wanted to send a terrifying message. Or maybe all the recipients—the intended targets and the security and mailroom staffers that handled the devices–just got lucky.
Either way, luck was involved. And luck is not a strategy.
We should have learned this by now, since this is far from the first time a bomb that did not contain metal failed to go off. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, got his non-metallic bomb onto a flight from Paris to Miami in 2001, but couldn’t light the device. Everything about the attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber, went as planned except the bomb burned rather than blew up on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit in 2009. Attacks with non-metallic bombs do happen. Al-Qaeda used plastic explosives to attack the USS Cole in 2000, and terrorists used a C-4 to blow up a U.S. military housing complex in Saudi Arabia in 1996. But the reality is that in this country, we’ve avoided casualties from some of the most potentially lethal and destabilizing attacks because of the failure of the attacks, not the success of the security.
So, what to do? For starters, any organization or citizen that has felt concerned enough about being a terrorists’ target to get a metal detector needs to look for screening systems that can identify metallic and non-metallic weapons. We sell such systems—they use a technology called millimeter wave that identifies materials by its chemical makeup – and so do other companies.
Beyond that, the solutions become a lot less clear, and a lot more daunting. This round of attacks highlights not only the threat from non-metallic devices, but the broad shift in terror tactics from attacking hardened locations such as airports and government buildings to targeting “soft targets” that typically have no weapons screening at all, such as office buildings. Indeed, the only reason the bomb meant for Robert De Niro wasn’t delivered to the actor is that an eagle-eyed security staffer at his production company saw a mailroom worker with a package that looked just like the one he saw a photo of on TV the previous day that contained a bomb.
We are lucky in this country to have world-class law enforcement and counter-terrorism people, and we will likely soon know who did this and why none of the bombs actually detonated. But as a society, we need to grapple more seriously with giving these professionals and their peers in corporate security access to more information and technology to predict and prevent such attacks. The President’s security detail no doubt had x-ray machines capable of spotting almost any kind of weapon, but do we need to upgrade, or in some cases, to introduce material-agnostic weapons screening in our public mail systems? How about scanning for private delivery services companies and distribution center offices? And what about screening for other kinds of attacks? The scary truth is that yesterday the attacks came through the mail, but tomorrow they could be delivered by a person walking through the front door.
The Dangerous Dawn of the DIY Gun Industry
By Mike Ellenbogen, CEO, Evolv Technology –
In the first episode of his new show “Who Is America,” comedian Sacha Baron Cohen did a surreal bit in which he persuaded three U.S. Congressmen and former Senator Trent Lott to support his character’s desire to train children as young as four years old to carry guns to help stop school shootings. “Kinder Guardians,” he called them.
Well, how’s this for surreal? On July 10, five days before the episode aired, it became legal for anyone in most parts of this country — convicted murderers, known terror suspects and, yes, even children — to easily and legally make a gun in their own basement. And not just any gun, mind you. An untraceable gun.
This development is the result of the U.S. State Department’s decision to settle a lawsuit brought by Austin, Texas-based Defense Distributed, which sued the government in 2015 for the right to publish plans to 3D print a handgun, along with other designs including milling instructions to program a desktop 3D CNC machine to create guns and gun parts. Today was the day Defense Distributed had planned to relaunch the company’s online repository of files, which is calls DefCad.
Fortunately, a Federal judge in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order yesterday in a case brought by eight states, preventing the distribution of the CAD files, pending the trial. While it turns out Defense Distributed had already started distributing the files, the website relaunch was sure to attract the attention of people who our society has decided should not have access to guns. As the blurb on Defense Distributed’s website (now turned upside down, in protest of the restraining order) proclaimed: “The age of the downloadable gun formally begins.” Rarely has the phrase “dodging a bullet” rung so true.
Defense Distributed’s vision is a big deal. While there’s been a DIY gun movement for years, you needed some expertise in metal-working and a hobbyist’s passion for guns, manufacturing or both. Not anymore. Defense Distributed has made making a real gun at home as easy as buying a home-brew kit to make your first batch of beer. Say you want to build your own AR-15 without the government having any knowledge. There are just four simple steps. First, put down a $250 deposit to get one of Defense Distributed’s Ghost Runner metal milling machines (while the full price isn’t listed on the website, this excellent article in Wired says the machine costs $1,200.) Second, buy legally-available gun parts, such as the muzzle and the grip of an AR-15, as well as a slightly-unfinished “lower-receiver” from Defense Distributed or another gun supplies website. (The sale of finished “lowers” for all guns has been regulated until now, as the lower contains the trigger mechanism and therefore is the part that controls whether a gun is single-shot, semi-automatic or automatic). When the “80%” complete lower arrives in the mail, follow the instructions to set it properly in the Ghost Gunner. Fourth, download the file for the part you want to make from Defense Distributed’s website, and then drag and drop the file onto the icon for your Ghost Gunner on your PC. With the push of a button, the machine will complete the milling of the lower, so it can be combined with other AR-15 parts you’ve purchased legally.
Note that the news today is not just about plastic guns. Defense Distributed became well known back in 2013 when it unveiled designs for a handgun called the Liberator that could be printed with a 3D-printer. While a technical milestone of sorts, this and other plastic firearms are only capable of a limited number of shots before they self-destruct. The real threat is the ability to make your own high-quality, fully functional mil-spec semi-automatic weapon.
As an American citizen, I am concerned that the State Department’s decision nullifies the one thing that everyone from the NRA to Parkland student activist Emma Gonzalez could agree on: that people who are known to be dangerous to the public should not be able to get a gun capable of inflicting mass casualties. Suddenly, every Federal measure put in place to make life difficult for mass shooters—the disgruntled teenage boy tired of being bullied at school, the furious ex-husband with a jealous grudge, the radicalized religious zealot—is rendered ineffective. Unless there are state or local laws in place, would-be murderers will not need to submit to background checks, or take the chance that a sharp-eyed gun shop owner will notify authorities of suspicious behavior. They’ll also have an easier time skirting “Red Flag” laws, such as the one passed by Massachusetts on July 3, that gives family members and house-mates the right to request confiscation of guns from people they consider to be dangers to themselves or others.
No doubt, some state and local laws will provide legal checks on Defense Distributed’s “guns-on-tap” vision. On July 30, two days before it planned to relaunch distribution of its CAD files, the company agreed to block access to the site in Pennsylvania to avoid legal action by the state’s Attorney General. It’s also illegal to sell guns and gun parts made with a Ghost Gunner to others without a Federal Firearms License, and in some cases may be illegal to even let someone else use their Ghost Gunner, according to Defense Distributed’s website.
Regardless of what happens with the lawsuit filed by the eight states and the District of Columbia, some checks on Defense Distributed’s “guns-on-tap” vision will remain. The State Department’s decision to allow distribution of the CAD files did not lift Federal prohibitions on the use of DIY milling machines for commercial purposes, without a Federal Firearms License. The machines are supposed to be only for personal use. Defense Distributed warns would-be customers on its website that it may be illegal to even let someone else use your Ghost Gunner in some jurisdictions. Many states and municipalities also have laws regulating use of DIY gun technology–and that will no doubt rise now that the topic has become front-page news.
Contact your elected officials and ask them not to lower the bar.
Read more here about today’s threat vectors and tomorrow’s security threats.
5 Years Old, 3 Years of Development, 1+ Million Visitors Scanned
By Mike Ellenbogen, CEO, Evolv Technology
The Future of Risked Based Security and What’s Ahead For Evolv
This month marks our fifth-year anniversary as a company and the celebration of more than one million people screened with our Evolv Edge physical threat detection technology. We spent three years developing cutting edge technology, more than a year in the field working with users and government testing labs and have been actively screening visitors for just over a year. These milestones are both motivating and critical for our company as we fulfill a vision of a world where safety and security can be possible in all the places we expect to visit safely. Our vision for the industry has no boundaries and is a promise to put safety first at a time when the threat landscape is ever changing. The time to act is now and we are doing so by re-thinking technology that hasn’t been touched or advanced for decades.
When we started Evolv in 2013, Anil Chitkara, my co-founder and our company’s president, and I set out on a mission to preserve everyone’s fundamental right to be safe in all the places people gather. We engaged with industry contacts in different markets to uncover unique pain points, meeting with professors and PhD students to learn about the latest technologies being applied in a diverse range of industries, and exploring security issues with U.S. and international security and counter terrorism experts. We saw a need to rally our networks around the common cause of addressing urgent and evolving security gaps that threaten this fundamental right to safety.
On the heels of these milestones, we’d like to take this opportunity to share with you what we’ve been up to and what’s on the horizon for our company.
Today: Customer Experiences are Pushing Us Forward
Since our founding in 2013, we’ve expanded to 45 employees and have solidified several installations and engagements that have been instrumental to informing the continued evolution of our products. In addition to having scanned more than 1 million people, we completed pilots at 30 different customer locations in 2017, have sales distributors with demonstration units in 14 countries across the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and have been tested at five different government labs.
Because of the nature of our business, we can’t always describe our customers’ specific deployments. A few highlights that we can publicly discuss include installations at Oakland International Airport (OAK) and The Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, along with installations at a number of venues in New York City, the most targeted city for terrorism outside of war zones. The Evolv Edge was purpose-built to help proactively keep people and assets safe by detecting and preventing threats before they happen. For these use cases, Evolv Edge offers proactive protection against current and emerging threats, speeding the security process and reducing lines.
OAK is a great example of the Edge used for employee screening for metallic and non-metallic threats at the pace of life.
In the case of performing arts centers, Evolv’s suite of products are being applied as part of an overarching risk-based security approach. Edge and Pinpoint, our integrated face recognition technology, screen well known and unknown patrons at the entrances to individual theaters, while Pinpoint can be deployed backstage to properly clear known, employed individuals and their guests. This approach makes securing venues a seamless process for a security team, while ensuring visitors have the positive and safe experience they expect when going to see a show or performance.
As these different examples illustrate, “one size fits all” doesn’t work for physical security today. Evolv is laser-focused on helping organizations embrace a risk management strategy that recognizes lower risk, pre-screened or “known” audiences and enables them to pass quickly and unobtrusively into a venue so security can focus their most rigorous screening on the few unknown visitors. For us, embracing technology that takes the friction out of the physical screening process is as much about the guest experience as it is about improving the physical security posture for our customers.
Tomorrow: Evolving Security for the New-World Paradigm
Ultimately, there’s a need for security that didn’t exist a few years ago and yesterday’s tools were not designed to address new threats. The same handheld or walk-through metal detectors and X-ray imaging systems that were deployed more than 50 years ago are still the primary screening solution used today. Combining the power of AI, more specifically machine learning, with smarter sensors and human IQ provides a more intelligent, informed solution. As we look to the future and the need to be more nimble than our adversaries, we’ll see sensors, deep learning and biometrics increasingly leveraged to seamlessly detect threats while making it easier for the general public to “just walk through,” giving guards and security professionals the information they need to quickly and confidently assure a safe environment for their visitors.
Throughout our journey, we’ve had the benefit of a tremendous support network, including our investors, advisors, employees and, most importantly, our customers. We remain grateful for the guidance and never-ending energy from all our stakeholders. We hope to make a difference in this world, and our ever-expanding team is critically important to making that happen. We hope you’ll continue to join us on our journey, as we work to scan millions more and enable safety anywhere, at the pace of life.
Want to be a part of our journey? Check out our open positions.
Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day @ Evolv
by Liza Knapp, Head of Talent Acquisition at Evolv Technology
Evolv’s Waltham-based headquarters were transformed into a classroom recently when we hosted a day-long event for Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. Our office was abuzz with activity as children tried their hands at a variety of activities, which included soldering, writing and giving presentations, and using calipers to measure mechanical parts as fine as the width of a human hair. By the end of the day, participants had, among other things, built their own solder kits, come up with a business idea, learned to interpret CAD drawings, and seen how an oscilloscope helps our electrical engineers perform their work.
In the nearly four years since our founding, Evolv’s team of engineers, designers, and thought leaders has been laser-focused on our mission of keeping the world safe. We are incredibly passionate about why we do what we do. On April 27th, we got a chance to show our passion for how we do what we do. Faces lit up as our electrical engineers described and showed the tools they use to do their jobs, and as our software engineers helped kids re-program our Edge machines to display a “Despicable Me” minion rather than the usual blue shield. Whether it was teaching about quality while challenging the kids to find all the bugs on a UI screen, engaging the kids with a game in which they attempted to outsmart the AI system, or helping them devise and “launch” an idea for a new business, Evolv’s team members rose to the challenging of teaching kids about the various tools we use on a daily basis.
We are serious about our work, and taking time out of our already tight manufacturing, design and sales schedule to work with kids had not been a top priority for any of Evolv’s employees. Yet when the idea was proposed, our team members jumped at the chance to spend a day working with children. People stopped in the hall to talk about ideas they had for kids’ activities, or to ask a question for how we envisioned the day running. Not only were our employees excited to bring their own children into the office for a day, but everyone was enthusiastic about showing off their own work. We held a couple of meetings to plan the event, but really, the day planned itself – everyone seemed to have an idea for an activity they could run, and we gave our team carte blanche to design something they thought kids would find interesting.
In the end, Evolv’s Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day was a huge success. The kids had fun, and so did we. One of the children asked if we could run this event on a monthly basis. Likely not, given the above-mentioned deadlines, but we are already thinking about how to improve it for next year.