When emergency strikes, there is no time to waste. Every second counts.
After losing his mother in a tragedy that could’ve been prevented, Robb Woolsey, president and CEO of technology startup Rural First, knows this first-hand.
Around five years ago, Woolsey’s father walked into a room to find his mother struggling to breathe. He immediately called 911, but it took nearly 45 minutes for first responders to arrive.
By that time, it was too late. Her throat had already swollen shut and could no longer be intubated. Ironically, the nearest EMT station was only six minutes and 15 seconds away from where Woolsey’s parents lived.
The problem was that first responders were simply unable to find the house.
“The mapping when you get outside of first-class counties and into the country and rural areas tends to be very inaccurate,” Woolsey said. “It doesn’t have any of the address points, especially residential address points, and in some counties the road names are even incorrect.”
As a long-time business owner and previous account manager for Sprint and Verizon, Woolsey knew even before this family tragedy that major improvements were needed in the GPS tracking industry, but the loss of his mother was the pivotal motivation that drove him to take the task on himself.
Officially founded in 2013, Rural First provides high accuracy GPS tracking and fleet management solutions for first responders, especially those in rural areas. Woolsey said they tend to focus on communities of 25,000 people and under.
A note from MTC Director Bill Anderson
“It’s amazing what can be accomplished in such little time, and Rural First has proved this through and through. In just four short years, the company has completely transformed the GPS tracking industry. Its work is invaluable to the first response community as well as others, and we are excited to see where this innovative new technology will lead.”
Rural First also has several commercial organizations that use its GPS tracking system.
The company operates out of the eFactory, a tech-focused entrepreneurship center and business incubator in downtown Springfield.
Woolsey said Rural First plans to remap all of the rural areas of the U.S., which encompass nearly 97 percent of the country’s landmass.
“The main goal of Rural First is to help first responders save more lives and more property and help commercial organizations recoup profits, lost fuel labor, and missed opportunities,” Woolsey said.
Not only does Rural First’s software help first responders and commercial drivers get where they need to go, but it also allows them to see the location and status of all their vehicles.
When a customer signs on, Rural First brings in the equipment, activates the software with a carrier of the customer’s choice, and sets it up with the GPS satellites.
Once the software is installed in the vehicle, customers can then see dynamic “halos” indicating the current activity of each vehicle.
Different colors represent different activities – green for vehicles in motion, yellow for idling vehicles, red for those with lights activated, red and blue for lights and sirens, red and black for panic mode, and so forth.
“Now, not only can they see the location of all their vehicles, all their officers, first responders, and anyone in their fleet, but they can tell exactly what they’re doing at any given moment,” Woolsey said.
By rebuilding the maps of small town America and filling in the gaps left by Google, Here, and Apple Maps, Rural First is saving lives and salvaging profits one route at a time.
From tragedy to triumph, Rural First has certainly covered a lot of ground, both literally and figuratively.
In 2015, the company grew nearly 900 percent and doubled in size last year. It has built its team to a total of nine employees, five of which were brought on as interns.
Rural First has gained the partnership of four major carriers – Verizon, US Cellular, AT&T, and T-Mobile – and has been endorsed by the Missouri Sheriff’s Association.
“I’m actually very excited about what we have going,” Woolsey said. “We see a lot of growth potential in what we’re doing.”
This growth is in part thanks to investors like the Missouri Technology Corporation (MTC).
MTC invested $50,000 of IDEA Funds into the company during its second round of funding, which was matched by another investor. This enabled Rural First to buy more computers, hire interns and accelerate mapping.
Woolsey added that this buy-in from the state also lands them a lot of credibility with customers.
“The great thing about MTC is that they’re really looking to build companies that are going to grow the job base in Missouri,” Woolsey said.
Looking down the road (pun intended), Rural First plans to keep expanding its reseller network, direct sales team, and channel sales team.
Woolsey said the company also plans to have completely mapped everything within the U.S. and shift its focus to Central and South America.
Without a doubt, Rural First is already well on its way to achieving these goals and “paving the way” to more innovation in the Show-Me State.