For HBS US Army Veteran Jake Ahle (MBA ’22), the mission to protect never ends.
Tell us more about your background and what inspired you to be an entrepreneur.
Ever since I was young, I found myself gravitating toward leadership roles. Whether it was captaining a sports team or leading student government, I always sought the responsibility and challenge that came with leading teams. So, when I got to college and learned the job of an Army Officer, I was sold. I spent seven years leading teams big and small all over the world and knew that whatever it was I did after my time in uniform, I wanted to be in the business of leadership. Of all the career paths available to MBA students, entrepreneurship seemed like the best fit for my leadership ambitions. The opportunity to build a company from the ground up, employ people, and solve real-world problems was far and away the most appealing career path for me.
What is the problem that you are trying to solve?
Sadly, the problem my team and I are trying to solve hardly needs an explanation. Gun violence, particularly in school and workplace environments, has become all too common in the United States and despite great efforts to reduce the rise in gun violence, not much has been successful. Great strides have been made in active shooter prevention through investments in security systems such as cameras, internet monitoring, on premise psychologists, and others. But there remains a gap in affordable and comprehensive protective measures that schools and offices can rely on when they need it most—in the moment. I remember growing up in grade school and practicing fire drills once a month because that was the greatest threat we faced as a community just 20 years ago. Now, fire drills have largely been replaced with active shooter drills and the protocol from school to school, office to office, varies greatly when it comes to lockdown protection. My company seeks to fill that protective security gap by providing a simple, comprehensive, and practical security device that every classroom and every office can implement in seconds to protect against active shooter violence.
What is your solution?
We redesigned the standard classroom bookcase to have hidden but comprehensive, multi-layer security features that can turn any room into a safe room in just seconds. We incorporated ballistic material into the back and side panels to protect against gun fire. We placed four industrial casters, or, wheels, onto the bottom of the bookcase and engineered it to have 360 mobility. We developed a proprietary locking mechanism that quickly secures the bookcase to the wall beyond the dimensions of the doorframe to ensure complete access denial from outside the room. We also incorporated a reflective surface onto the rear-face of the bookcase, that serves as a psychological deterrent, and is only seen by the attacker from the outside to create pause and confusion. Above all, we maintained the normal aesthetic and practical function of a bookcase to never militarize the environment that the bookcase is protecting.
What was the inspiration behind your company/idea?
As US Army Infantry and Special Operations soldiers, my co-founders and I spent many years in the Army learning how to enter barricaded rooms. After years of increasing gun violence in schools, we realized that our expertise could be reversed to build something that can stop even experts like ourselves and protect those who are vulnerable when trapped inside of a room. Thus, Protecting Education, “ProtectED” was born. We wanted to build our product for school classrooms and so knew the best product would be one that not only provides an unparalleled level of protection but also blends into the classroom setting so children and teachers can feel safe and not be reminded of the potential dangers that threaten our loved ones today.
Who is the team behind your startup?
Four of us co-founded ProtectED in January 2020. Pete Facchini is a 20-year US Army Special Operations veteran with more than 28 deployments to the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and South America. Pete brings unmatched tactical and technical expertise to the necessary security features of the product. Tim Cahalin, one of Pete’s childhood friends, is a custom design furniture maker with a background in architecture. Tim has spent years designing high-end furniture and was the chief designer of the product. Tom Ankenbauer served alongside me for all seven years in the Army and is now a second-year student at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Tom not only reinforces Pete’s technical knowledge but also brings with him an expertise in logistics and project management.
How did you get started?
In late 2019, Pete, Tom, and I were all working together for a small Army unit out of Ft. Meade, Maryland. Pete, having heard Tom and I were going to business school, approached us with an idea he had thought of for protecting indoor spaces during an active shooter situation. Upon learning of Pete’s idea, Tom and I were quick to join him and help develop the idea further and make it into a business. Tim, who had already been working with Pete on the idea, rounded out the four-person founding team and we quickly began product development shortly thereafter.
ProtectED went to market with our bookcases this past summer and secured our first few customers in New Jersey. We have since expanded our customer base into New York and are looking to develop and grow our sales in the southeast United States. We have also begun working with other entities on new and different products that will scale beyond just the classroom setting. In the years ahead, our goal is to make every room a safe room and protect all persons from school and workplace violence.
Jake Ahle (MBA ’22) grew up in Marlton, New Jersey before attending Pennsylvania State University on an Army ROTC scholarship. After graduating in 2013, Jake commissioned into the US Army and spent the next seven years serving as an infantry officer. In August 2020, Jake began studying at Harvard Business School and is set to graduate in May 2022 when he will begin working full time for his startup, ProtectED.
Mike Kelly (MBA ’22) grew up outside Pittsburgh, PA. Prior to HBS, he worked for five years in engineering, product strategy, and program management at Ford, where his work spanned both automotive and the future of mobility. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a Mechanical Engineering degree, and he played trumpet in the marching band. His favorite cereal is Reese’s Puffs, which you can usually find him chowing down on Zoom.