15 Feb With new IU Angel Network investment, IU-affiliated true crime startup seeks to solve cold cases
Uncovered is leveraging publicly available data, analytics and community interest in true crime media
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Feb. 15, 2022
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — If Americans can agree on one notion, it’s that we are living in the era of the true crime podcast, where every day seems to deliver a new online series devoted to murder mysteries, serial killers, sensational kidnappings, high-profile heists, notorious cults, and other bone-chilling subject matter.
With the 2014 launch of podcast phenomenon “Serial,” and continuing with shows such as “S-Town,” “Dr. Death,” “Dirty John” and “My Favorite Murder,” demand for these podcasts has exploded in recent years. (It is estimated that more than 200 true crime podcasts have launched over the last six years alone.) Amazon, Apple, Spotify and other technology giants are racing to snap up the rights to the most popular true crime podcasts. The genre has even reached the point of parody with Hulu’s critically acclaimed “Only Murders in the Building,” which follows three strangers who share an obsession with a true crime podcast, and “Saturday Night Live’s” memorable 2021 skit “Murder Show.”
An Indiana University-affiliated startup is now working to translate our collective fascination with true crime into real advocacy and action, as the company further develops its proprietary software platform with new support made possible through IU Ventures, the university’s startup investment arm.
First conceptualized in 2019, Uncovered combines data, analytics and a growing community of “citizen detectives” to help solve the cold cases of murdered or missing people, alleviate the burden on law enforcement, and bring peace and justice to the families of those who have lost friends and loved ones. Uncovered is the brainchild of three IU alumni: Jim Brown, a graduate of the IUPUI School of Liberal Arts and the company’s CEO; Head of Product Anna Eaglin, who earned IU degrees from IU Bloomington’s College of Arts and Sciences and Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering; and Ashlee Fujawa, the company’s head of community, who has degrees from IU Bloomington’s College of Arts and Sciences and School of Education.
Uncovered has secured a $120,000 investment from the IU Angel Network, one of several major investment programs managed by IU Ventures, which leads IU’s investment in high-potential new venture opportunities with strong university connections. Uncovered will use the new funding to continue to acquire data and other resources that can be used to solve cold cases, expand its community of citizen crime-solvers, and develop partnerships with universities, law enforcement agencies, content creators and investigative journalists.
“By now, we’re all familiar with the exploding popularity of true crime TV shows, podcasts and books. True crime does, in fact, sell,” said Jason Whitney, vice president of venture development at IU Ventures and executive director of the IU Angel Network. “But Uncovered has come up with a unique, inclusive and interactive way to translate our collective interest in this content into something that matters and impact for victims of crimes, their families and their loved ones. In addition to supporting to the social impact being delivered by Uncovered, our network was excited to be able to invest in three Hoosier founders who had previously seen tremendous success in the Indy start-up scene prior to combining efforts here.
“I cannot wait to see how this company continues to grow its internal team, community network and positive impact.”
Currently, there are over a quarter-million unsolved cases in the U.S., and each year that number grows at a rate of about 5,000 cases. Murder clearance rates have dropped in recent years to as low as 57%, while public trust in law enforcement has continued to dwindle. Additionally, statistics indicate that a disproportionate number of cold cases involve people of color, members of LGBTQ+ and indigenous communities, and sex workers.
While several platforms publish information related to missing persons and murder cases, in many situations these details remain outdated and disparate. Uncovered offers a pipeline of unsolved cases as well as a centralized and interactive database of publicly available information that community activists and true crime enthusiasts can legally and ethically utilize to research these cases. It also provides a community where users can connect with other individuals with a shared interest in solving cases; attend events and receive training to elevate their citizen detective skills; access digital tools and workspaces; and build the future of the company.
Uncovered has grown to more than 12,000 cases from across the country featured on its website and more than 500 registered members. The company’s team of employees and advisors includes experts in victim and family advocacy, forensic science, cultural education, data science, product management, market research, design and web development.
“So many of our community members come from a place where they are wanting to know more, wanting to stay engaged with the media content they’re eagerly consuming, and wanting to make a real impact, but they don’t know where to start,” said co-founder Ashlee Fujawa, who is responsible for managing and growing Uncovered’s network of subscribers, volunteers, citizen detectives, content partners, and criminal justice experts and advocates. “In Uncovered, they’ve discovered an interactive platform where they can come together with like-minded people and apply their passion, their wisdom and their expertise to solving actual cold cases.”
Uncovered’s founding dates back to 2004, when a cousin of co-founder Anna Eaglin went missing in Indianapolis. The case remains unsolved today, but Eaglin and Fujawa, who met while students at IU, have made it their mission to devise a solution to help the many families who have lost a loved one.
“We knew that even if we just came up with one centralized database of all the publicly available information on cold cases, that would be a success — since nothing like that exists currently,” Fujawa said. “By applying an engaged and thoughtful community, we’re working closely with partners, including legislators, law enforcement, media, researchers, students and others, who are gathering and utilizing open records in ways that are also new. We’re contributing to a dramatic culture shift in true crime — moving the focus from consumption for entertainment and enabling people to contribute to cases and potentially make a huge impact.”
As they seek to further develop the company’s data engine and expand its community of citizen detectives, Uncovered’s team members are grateful for the investment, startup expertise and industry connections that IU Ventures will provide.
“Just the notion that Indiana University took an interest in what we have been cultivating and chose to invest back in us is astounding,” Fujawa said. “It’s a huge benefit knowing that our university can provide the kinds of resources — including funding, feedback and expertise — to help us build our data platform, expand our network and shine a light on our company. Every person on this team will tell you they’re grateful for IU’s investment, which will allow us to make a real difference in people’s lives.”
About IU Ventures
IU Ventures invests in and supports IU-affiliated early-stage companies. Its investment programs include the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund, IU Angel Network, Shoebox Fund and Innovate Indiana Fund. It further supports IU founders through the Executive in Residence Program and IU Founders and Funders Network. Student support is provided through a variety of engagements, including the new IU Venture Fellows Program. Each program takes unique approaches to accelerate and support the positive impacts that entrepreneurs affiliated with IU already achieve across the world. IU Ventures is a recognized leader in increasing opportunities for diverse and historically underserved entrepreneurs and investing in Indiana startups with a shared commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.