Even in a place like New York City, there are times when we find ourselves disconnected, unable to reach a friend or to get help in an emergency—usually when we most need to.
That realization inspired Brazilian-born brother-sister team Daniela and Jorge Perdomo, who saw firsthand the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Sandy back in 2012, to start creating prototypes for goTenna, a device that allows people to communicate without cell towers, WiFi routers, or satellites. "All of a sudden, in this hyper-connected place, you couldn't get through to anyone," recalls Daniela Perdomo, the 30-year-old CEO of the company.
The goTenna aims to solve that problem by working outside of traditional networks—in fact, it creates its own, closed network using low-frequency radio waves. In practice, it works similarly to a walkie-talkie in that you need two to be able to communicate to each other, but each device connects to a smartphone and lets users send messages and drop locations.
On Wednesday, goTenna announced a $7.5 million Series A funding round, led by Walden Venture Capital and joined by institutional investors MentorTech Ventures , Verizon (vz) subsidiary BBG Ventures, and Bloomberg Beta . One strategic investor of note is cellular service pioneer Kenneth Horowitz, who co-founded Cellular One, a wireless carrier that was later acquired by AT&T (t).
The funding is particularly impressive in that it's happening in a bear market, at a time when Wall Street's relationship with Silicon Valley startups has noticeably soured. It helps that goTenna is based in Brooklyn, Perdomo says. "It's been really nice to [work on tech here] in New York, not San Francisco. We're doing our own thing and we’ve been heads down for a while," she says.
Also, for the first time, goTenna will be available in retail stores. Starting Wednesday and for the next three months, goTenna will be sold exclusively at outdoor equipment retailer REI, a partnership that, Perdomo says, stems from the store's willingness to go "all in" to market the product.
"We're going to be in every single [REI] store," Perdomo says. This is somewhat unusual for a retail launch, as retailers typically run pilots before launching products nationally. Previously, goTenna was sold only through its website. Since October, when it began product shipment, it has sold "tens of thousands" of units, Perdomo says.
Both announcements represent major steps forward for the three-year-old company, which has just 13 full-time employees yet has received demand for its products all over the world, "from Latin America to the South Pacific to Africa." Perdomo plans to use the latest round of funding to expand goTenna's team, revamp the product's technology, and move into international markets.
The number of use cases for the product, which is sold in pairs for $199 and works with Android and iOS devices, ranges from outdoor adventures, to natural disaster relief, to regular use in emerging markets.
"I feel very strongly that goTenna is a company, not a product. This first product is the basis of what will be a suite of technologies that’ll follow," Perdomo says.