Russell Thornton

Russell Thornton

Founder of Amber Alert GPS
Business Administration '01

Russell Thornton The genesis of an innovation is often depicted as a light bulb turning on. Sometimes, however, innovation is the result of a light bulb flickering off, which is exactly how it felt to Russell Thornton when his young son suddenly vanished at an amusement park five years ago. After 45 minutes of frantic searching, Thornton found his son playing away safely and intently in a crowded video arcade. That intense moment of darkness became the spark of inspiration for Thornton, who founded Amber Alert GPS, a company whose products are designed to help parents quickly locate lost children.

Shortly after the incident, Thornton became focused on finding a product that could help him keep better track of his son. “The only products available at the time,” according to Thornton, “were bulky and difficult to use.” Thornton set out to develop a better product.

Fortunately, Thornton had a business background in a technical field, and a solid sense for business that he credits largely to his education at UW Bothell.

Amber AlertTargeting parents of kids aged two to 10, Thornton envisioned a product that would be small, easy and fun to use, and packed with the best technology available. Thornton traveled to China to meet with potential manufacturers. He was not an expert in GPS technologies, so he had much to learn. After undertaking a tremendous amount of technical and market research, Thornton introduced Amber Alert GPS – a compact, brightly colored device that kids can carry, and that parents can track.

This year, Thornton is introducing his fourth-generation unit, which comes bundled with applications that can be used on mobile phones to keep tabs on even older kids. As the technology in GPS tracking and battery-life has evolved, Thornton is now looking at ways to expand into other markets. Two areas of considerable opportunity are what Thornton refers to as the “senior space” and the “pet space.”

“People undergo considerable stress and pain when they can’t locate a loved one or even a pet,” says Thornton. “A product that could deliver the ability to keep tabs on an ailing parent could be very marketable, as could a product with the ability to keep track of a lost pet.”

Thornton is grateful for the education he received at UW Bothell. In particular, he points to the skills learned in conducting market research, building business plans and pitching those plans to potential investors. “The business plan competition proved to be an incredibly practical experience for my real career,” says Thornton.

Later this year, Amber Alert GPS will be featured at the AT&T Keynote at CTIA, one of the largest technology events in the world.

For more information about Amber Alert GPS, visit