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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 1, 2019 2 months ago

Child watch 

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Behind a $5 million valuation and some national attention, tech startup IGPS has eyes on bigger days ahead by filling a growing demand.
by: Andrew Warfield Lee-Collier Editor

Brothers Dallas and Anthony Vasquez, for a time, were content earning a living running Alerts 911. It's a company they founded to provide GPS and communication devices to patients suffering with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

But they weren’t satisfying their entrepreneurial itch to innovate. 

Some of their clients began to scratch that itch by asking if they offered products for children. Although it didn’t, the requests served as the genesis for their next venture: Fort Myers-based iGPS Watch, recently named by Startup City Magazine as one of the nation’s 15 most promising wearable tech startups.

Launched in 2017 after more than two years of research and development, iGPS, Dallas Vasquez says, has sold tens of thousands of smart watches designed for children linked via mobile app to their parents’ smartphones. These watches provide location services, two-way communications and task scheduling, with additional services constantly under development. Retailing for $119.95, parents can download the app and synchronize the devices. A monthly service plan for $14.95 includes all updates and new available features, technical support and customer service.

'You may not be a helicopter parent, but it's nice to know where your kids are and it's nice to be able to reach out when appropriate to see how their day is going.' Dallas Vasquez, iGPS

“It's kind of that pre-cell phone stage, so we’re introducing a mobile device to a child, but with the knowledge that it comes with some responsibility,” says Dallas Vasquez. 

The brothers sold Alerts 911 in 2017, and even before that, along with software developer Qais Alkurdi, got going on beta testing and market research for iGPS Watch. (Dallas Vasquez, 38, and Anthony Vasquez, 35, have four young children between them, and Anthony's five-year-old daughter, a Kindergartener, wears a watch everyday.)

“First we had to figure out was there any demand for the product, and if there is anything that exists that is solving the problem,” says Dallas Vasquez. “We discovered there was a demand, and what was in the market either came out of Asia or stayed in Asia.”

With demand confirmed, and only Verizon Wireless  as a competitor, iGPS Watch began manufacturing hardware in Thailand.

Sales, through its website and third-party platforms such as Amazon, have since grown rapidly. Year-over-year growth was 97% between 2016 and 2017, and 101% in 2018, say company officials, who decline to disclose specific revenue figures. With an expected entry into brick and mortar retail this year — plus international expansion in Asia, Europe and Latin America — the company projects 400% growth in 2019, all with a total staff of six in offices in Fort Myers and Temecula, Calif., where Alkurdi is based.

Doubling as a smart watch kids want to wear, Vasquez says iGPS is designed for parents and security of their children. In addition to GPS tracking, parents can set up “geo fence” that will alert them if their kids move outside the permitted boundaries. Among other functions, it can notify parents when kids arrive at a destination or home. Multiple new features are constantly under development.

In addition to two-way communications and GPS tracking, the iGPS Watch is also a watch. Courtesy IGPS Watch

Next for the company is adaptation of the technology for schools. Vasquez says iGPS Watch has received numerous inquiries from school districts and private schools on how to make schools “smarter.” In development is a school pilot program that would ideally be launched with private school partners.

“School districts have started to reach out to us to draft some policy and look into wearables because they are less disruptive than cell phones,” says Vasquez. “Once we get some data and feedback from a pilot with a private school, we will have a whole set of data points that will demonstrate what is happening and how we are able to make the school more efficient to justify the cost of doing this."

The company faces several obstacles. The partners, for example, have taken iGPS Watch as far as they can without capital infusion. Current production and distribution capacity is 20,000 units per month. That can be doubled or even tripled with six to eight weeks of lead time. Vasquez says the company expects to close out a $1.5 million Series A funding round within three months, based on a company valuation of $5 million.

“Just to support some of the big box retail in the U.S. is an enormous effort," says Vasquez, adding that Asia, Europe and Latin America are also in the mix, "and we have to be prepared to do that.”

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