PERSONAL alarm entrepreneur targets Britain’s army of lone workers with tech roll-out
It was an attack on a neighbour that inspired Rebecca Pick to launch her personal alarm start-up Pick Protection, which now has the UK’s eight million-strong army of lone workers in its sights.
The entrepreneur was studying at the University of Strathclyde when she heard of the attack, and was shocked to find out that nobody came to her neighbour’s assistance despite her cries for help.
Having previously been an intern at a security company, Pick says she knew that police would automatically respond to a burglar alarm, adding: “I saw there was a way of changing it from monitoring a building to monitoring a person, and I raised the first £60,000 of angel investment on the back of it being a business-to-consumer product.”
Since then Pick Protection, founded in 2014, has raised almost £1 million of investment to take its technology to market. In October, the firm secured £744,000 in a funding round led by Equity Gap, with other backers including the University of Strathclyde, Gabriel Investment Syndicate, the Scottish Investment Bank and manufacturer Unipart.
Pick says: “It’s been a long journey, going from the consumer market to learning all about the lone-worker protection market – unbelievably, every nine minutes in the UK someone is attacked while working alone. It’s a huge problem – there are eight million lone workers in the UK and only 6 per cent of them have protection through monitored alarms.”
Her firm’s devices link to a smartphone and will be monitored by Unipart Security’s alarm receiving centre in Oxford, where staff can confirm whether an emergency is happening and provide police with the user’s location.
“If you look at what’s on the market, there are a lot of stand-alone solutions, whereas we’re offering a combination of alarm hardware and smartphone software,” explains Pick.
“It’s important for our customers that we can provide evidence that would be admissible in court, so through the alarm and smartphone it connects to Unipart, and their operators can listen in live and drill down into the recording to gather evidence.”
Pick says that one solution would never fit each scenario, so her firm has developed a range of products and services including the Personal Guardian – which is made in Scotland and claims to be the smallest, lightest alarm on the market – along with a key-fob device and smartphone apps.
She also reveals that she has been speaking to Uber to see how the taxi-hailing app can do more to protect its drivers, having recently secured an all-expenses-paid trip to meet investors in California, alongside Heather McDonald of WooHa Brewing and Polly Van Alstyne of Scottish Bioenergy, after the trio were crowned winners at the AccelerateHER Awards for female entrepreneurs.
“It was a great insight into how they do things over there – everything moves so much faster and I came back knowing we can think bigger, pick up the pace and really push what we’re doing. When I was out there I met the head of security for Uber.”
In terms of Glasgow-based Pick Protection’s international ambitions, the entrepreneur says the potential market in the UK is “huge” and she will be taking a “focused and sector-specific approach”, with housing associations and local authorities two of the firm’s key target sectors.
“Europe will be the next step, and Unipart can help with that roll-out,” she adds.
The start-up now boasts a nine-strong team of staff, including tech sector veteran Les Gaw, a member of the Gabriel angel syndicate.
“He spent so much time helping the business over the last three years and he’s just joined in an executive director’s role as chief operating officer,” says Pick. “All along the way he’s put so much time and effort into the business and I’ve learned loads from him. He’s a fantastic guy.”
All of Pick Protection’s devices are made north of the Border and Pick, who was born in York and went to school in the Highlands, says: “We’re really pleased to have that ‘made in Scotland’ stamp. We’re doing everything to maximise quality and give customers peace of mind that we’re doing the utmost for their protection.
“We’re entering a really exciting, high-growth market and we’ve got a product range that meets the needs of our customers. We really do think we’re the next big tech company to come out of Scotland.”
Born: York, 1993
Education: Glen Urquhart High School, Drumnadrochit; BA (Hons) in marketing and enterprise from University of Strathclyde
First job: Cleaning a caravan park
Ambition while at school: I always knew I wanted to be in business
Car: I’ve failed my driving test five times, but I’d love to have a VW Beetle
Favourite mode of transport: Flying
Music: Whatever’s in the top ten
Reading material: Management and business strategy – I’ve just finished Sun Tzu’s The Art of War
Can’t live without: I’d be lost without my phone
What makes you angry: Can’t think of anything – apart from failing my driving test
Who inspires you: Les Gaw, who came on board as part of our first round of angel investment