Jay CabozBy Jay Caboz|March 8, 2022|10 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

Billionaire Tomorrow

How a panic button born in horror is saving lives. 

Marilize Holtzhausen poured the pain of the brutal kidnapping of her sister into building an app that can save a life at the touch of a button. 

Many South Africans live on the edge of violent crime. It can be swift, brutal and devastating leaving victims traumatised for years. Just ask entrepreneur Marilize Holtzhausen when one evening after a long day’s work at a conference in Johannesburg, she looked down at her phone in horror.

“I remember looking down and seeing all these Please Call Me’s. It was my sister. And it was her way of trying to tell me that she needs help.” But for her sister, help arrived too late to prevent a brutal kidnapping and rape.

“She was blindfolded. She was forced into a car and tied up and she was with her child, a two-year-old. They couldn’t talk or communicate in any form. It was impossible to stop to alert someone and tell them you need help,” says Holtzhausen.

The trauma hung over the Holtzhausen family from Bloemfontein.  “It really truly felt like I was going through this attack again and again. I thought if only there was a better way to communicate when somebody is in trouble, if there was a better way to give you a voice when you can’t speak for yourself. When you are in a state of trauma, you don’t recognize different places. It’s very difficult to communicate and say: ‘I’m in trouble, please help me’.”

Born in trauma and forged with the determination to help South Africans who stare down the barrel of a gun was how Repsonse24 – an app which turns your cell phone into a panic button – was created.

“I didn’t realise that there was such a huge need in South Africa particularly, but also worldwide, for a personal panic button linked to your cell phone. Our country is challenged with high violent crime levels, and slow service delivery, and we had a choice to make: either stay stuck in our pain, or do something about it and be part of a solution that our country desperately needs.” “We’ve uberized an alert and we have digitised multiple different alert types,” says Holtzhausen.

The biggest challenge the company had was identifying ‘line of sight’ connecting call centres to consumers so that there is no longer a one-way dialogue. “We found out that a lot of these companies have got multiple systems, and none of the systems talk to each other. A lot of these companies deal with third party subcontracting companies to provide a national footprint,” says Holtzhausen.

“If you look at an insurance company, they will offer you 50 different types of value added service  products, like a tow truck, electrician, and all those things, but all of their services can be outsourced and corporates don’t have line of sight on that last mile service delivery component.”

By cutting out the ‘chatter’ the app can reduce response times from alert to first responder dispatch by at least five minutes. A vital lifeline whether you are at home, your local shopping centre, visiting relatives in the next town, or away from home on business or for leisure. A paid for version will even allow you to trigger alerts for friends travelling the world.

It helped during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns in South Africa. Emergency services were inundated with calls from people looking for help with non-life-threatening transport to testing centres, or to find the address of their nearest hospital handling the crisis. The unnecessary calls blocked call centre lines and used valuable resources that should have been deployed elsewhere, where they were needed most.

In stepped Reponse24 with a “Medical Support SA button” that linked consumers directly to the centralised National Operations Centre (NOC) where agents worked to assist in qualifying and directing callers to the correct Covid-19 facilities and sources of information. And from Africa they now want to take on the world.

Holtzhausen launched the app in the United States just a few months ago and is running a pilot with one the most famous call response systems in the world, the United States based 911 operations centre.

“We are currently in proof of concept in the state of Arizona, and with some of the emergency centres. And we’ve where we currently have one way integration into 3,808 of the 911 centres.”

Holtzhausen also says they are in talks with a company in Singapore that wants to integrate their software into drones programmed to identify broken windows on skyscrapers.

“When the drone picks up a broken window it logs an exception which is then automatically connected to a contractor to fix.” As for how Holtzhausen feels about the journey of her small business from the dark days of her sister’s trauma.

“I just wanted to get it right and stop the trauma for one family. For me, to see that what we’ve put together is really impactful and different is very, very special. What we wanted to do and achieve was giving you a voice when you can speak for yourself. By that I mean, at the push of a button people must know who you are, where you are, or what type of help you need. That was the sort of golden thread and we are still very much sticking to that golden thread.”

An invention born of trauma in Africa that could save more lives.

It really, truly felt like I was going through this attack again and again. I thought if only there was a better way to communicate when somebody is in trouble, if there was a better way to give you a voice when you can't speak for yourself

Marilize Holtzhausen, founder Response24.

911 Response24

Response24 is a communication platform that connects multiple service providers together to instantly mobilise a co-ordinated response.

So how does it all work?

Launched in 2014, the app has brought on some 3,000 clients and just short of 40,000 customers on the app. They’ve gone on to win multiple global technology awards including the Global Award for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Google’s prestigious Google Fest; the Tech Entrepreneur Award at the 2020 Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum Awards, as well as the Most Scalable Microsoft and International Labour organisation award.

From the time an alert is triggered, the app sends notifications and live GPS coordinates to your friends and family and emergency personnel – be it armed response, or an ambulance.

You will also be able to track the live locations of all responders as they get to you, so you know that help really is on the way. Even if you are moved to a medical facility, your friends and family will be able to track your progress and meet you there.

Since those early days when it was just an app the company has evolved. What was just a mobile app is now a full-on software solution for b2b for other businesses as well. Over 300 security companies including local security giants Bidvest Protea Coin, and leading medical emergency service provider ER24, have signed on integrating the software into their call centres.