The pen is mightier than the sword and this library is mightier than a bullet

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Jake Ahle (left) and Tom Ankenbauer in front of the Baker Library at Harvard Business School. Courtesy photo

Mass shootings remain a major problem in the United States. Although this is a fairly isolated tragedy in the United States, few policymakers or law enforcement agencies have been able to offer meaningful solutions. Two current MBAs spend their time at a business school launching a startup that tries to do just that.

Jake Ahle, who will be entering his sophomore year at Harvard Business School this fall, and Tom Ankenbauer, who is entering his sophomore year at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, have started a business called ProtectED, which sells bulletproof libraries for students. classrooms and office spaces.

“The bookcase does everything it should in that it is a functional piece of furniture,” says Ahle. Poets and Quants on a phone call. “It doesn’t look like anything other than a library, so you don’t sacrifice psychological safety. More importantly, it can be used quickly as it can be found in every school or office building and it immediately locks a door. This becomes an active solution to prevent an attacker from gaining access to the people inside. “

A START OF A CAREER IN THE ARMY

He is right. Libraries look like normal libraries. But they also have a bullet-resistant sheet of fiberglass built in and can be easily moved across a room to lock into place in front of a door. Ahle says at least two major furniture makers have signed on and although he’s only been a little over a year with the business, ProtectED is already generating enough revenue to cover all costs.

The idea came to Ahle and Ankenbauer in a somewhat fortuitous way – while actively serving overseas for the U.S. military. Ahle grew up outside of Philadelphia, New Jersey with a single mother and older sister. With a major in economics at Pennsylvania State University, Ahle joined the school’s ROTC program to pay for her education.

“When I initially joined the military through the ROTC as an undergraduate student, it was more out of the need to pay for my education than out of a deep patriotic passion that I had,” says Ahle. “It was never something I saw myself doing as a long term career.”

But Ahle ended up loving and developing a passion for the military and working with soldiers. So after college, Ahle graduated from the US Army Airborne and Ranger School and became an Army Infantry Officer and was deployed to northeastern Italy as a platoon leader. After these three years, Ahle completed his training to be part of a specialized unit called the Asymmetric Warfare Group.

Ahle and Ankenbauer in 2016 after a ceremony at Caserma Ederle (a US Army base located in Vicenza, Italy). Courtesy photo

FROM THE MILITARY TO CAMBRIDGE

As Ahle advanced in his military career, he moved further and further away from what he loved about the military, which was working with soldiers. His passion for economics and business has persisted. And Ahle knew he had developed leadership and management skills as an army officer. “It was a very natural transition, like many other officers before me, to go to business school,” Ahle recalls. “It felt like it was the best degree or the best experience I could have that would combine with my Army leadership training to really do something great.”

Plus, Ahle said, he was tired of another aspect of the military that he thought business school could help solve.

“After years of not only listening to a boss, but taking orders, this was something I never wanted to do again,” says Ahle. “So I really wanted to become an entrepreneur. But I didn’t know what it meant and business school seemed like the best place to figure it out.

Ahle therefore applied to major M7 Mid-Atlantic and East Coast MBA programs while deployed to the Middle East, which he said was “definitely a once in a lifetime experience.” In particular, Ahle had crass test conditions compared to fellow Americans applying to top business schools, taking the GMAT “in a classroom with a 2004 computer without air conditioning.”

THE GENESIS OF THE IDEA

All the while, Ahle was plotting to do it with his longtime military friend, Ankenbauer. They both applied to the same business schools in hopes of both landing in the same, or at least two close to each other. “It was so that we could learn different things and leverage those things to start a business that is going to have an impact,” says Ahle. Ahle was accepted to Harvard Business School and Ankenbauer to Sloan School at MIT to begin in fall 2019.

But they both had the opportunity to deploy on a final cycle with the Asymmetric Warfare Group, which they did and postponed their admission to 2020. On the one hand, it ended up being a bit of a disappointment. because they basically carried over into the “COVID year” of business school. But on the other hand, the fortuitous moment came when meeting Pete Facchini, another army veteran.

Facchini was deployed to the Middle East when he learned of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007. The shooting took place in several buildings and lasted for several hours, with 32 people murdered and dozens more were injured by gunshots or jumping out of windows. to escape. Facchini learned that many victims were trapped in dormitories or classrooms with no way to barricade themselves safely. Five years later, the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which resulted in the murder of 20 elementary school students and six adult staff members, touched Facchini very personally as a husband. of a teacher and father of three children.

APPLY MILITARY SKILLS AND TRAINING TO A POSSIBLE SOLUTION

All the while, Facchini knew he could develop a product to solve part of the problem. He was an expert in breaching special operations. Like many other soldiers, Facchini knew how to break into buildings and rooms. And he also knew how to prevent trained people like him from entering buildings and rooms. And then, at the end of 2019, he met two young officers who are about to start their MBA programs in two of the best business schools in the world.

“We are the people in the United States who are formed much like a SWAT team is formed or some piece of a police department,” Ahle said. “We actually get training on how to do these types of operations with rifles and different types of firearms – this very dangerous stuff that the average person is not trained on and really doesn’t understand. We have a unique knowledge and awareness of whenever there is one of those mass shootings or active shooting situations where people get stuck inside, we understand the perspective on how it is. and how there were casualties.

As someone who had also seen people get caught in rooms in the Middle East and growing up in an era of mass shootings – many of which involved schools – dating back to the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, Ahle and Ankenbauer were very interested in pursuing Facchini’s idea of ​​putting bulletproof barriers in classrooms and offices.

“These shootings are taking place, but there have been no real solutions,” Ahle said. “And we were shocked because if something goes wrong on a plane, let’s say, everything just shuts down until a solution is created and then implemented so that it never happens again. And we were like, how the hell are we still in a place where someone can walk into a school, or an office, or a newspaper, or whatever and get away with it anyhow? Forget the fact that there are too many guns in the United States. This is its own problem. But until you figure that out, why isn’t there some type of defense to protect people? “

Enter the ProtectED bulletproof library.

ONLY THE EXPLOSIVES HAVE BEEN ABLE TO PUNCTURE THE LIBRARIES

Tim Cahalin (left), Ahle (center) and Pete Facchini (right) after testing the first prototype at a high school in New Jersey, July 2020. Courtesy photo

The team thought about everything they were trained to break into a space for, then came up with a solution to stop it. Once they got the concept and the product, they started testing it. “We had a few fun evenings,” laughs Ahle. The team took him to co-founder and product manager, Tim Cahalin’s big lot in the woods of central New Jersey to perform ballistic testing. They also had military and SWAT units tested at training events.

“They couldn’t enter the room blocked by our library until they used explosives,” Ahle explains. “It was only after the explosives could enter. Of course, our product is not designed to withstand rocket-propelled grenades.”

The summer before Ahle and Ankenbauer entered School B, they brought the product to a school district for the first time to see how it would look and work in a classroom. The school district superintendent was in the building the same day and asked what they were doing. The team told him. “On the spot,” he said, “that’s all I told my security office that I wanted. I want it. I want ten, ”Ahle said.

Last February, the first concept was finally ready to be sold, which it did – to the same superintendent and the same school district. Other school districts in the area have taken notice of the product and have also contacted. Then the Colorado State University security office reached out in resentment. “After a sale, we got all of this demand,” says Ahle.

STRONG INITIAL GROWTH

Starting this business while in business school was a clutch for Ahle and Ankenbauer. “One of the most interesting things is immediately applying what you learned in class and applying it to what you do at night, which for us was the start of this business,” says Ahle.

Besides classes like freshman accounting and business manager, Ahle says access to entrepreneurs-in-residence at MIT and HBS has been helpful, as well as weekly calls with the MIT Entrepreneur Network. Ahle and Ankenbauer also brought in students from Harvard Law School and Boston University to handle all the contracts and other legal issues they had to resolve.

Ahle says the company’s trajectory will allow him and Ankenbauer to comfortably work full-time at ProctedEd after graduation, which is exactly what the two decided to do when they graduated. decided to go to business school in the first place.

“All of these things about the need to implement more psychological and mental health services or to implement more cameras, all of these things are true,” Ahle said. “And all of this should be implemented in turn. But all this does not stop people today. Psychologists cannot prevent someone from entering a school or an office. And when the attack starts, something has to be there to protect the people.

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