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MākuSafe develops wearable devices to improve workplace safety

In mid-2015, entrepreneur Gabriel Glynn found himself between startups. He had just sold his one-off software company and was launching his next project, a podcast about the manufacturing industry. He didn’t know it at the time, but that podcast would eventually lead him to his next business, insurtech startup MākuSafe.

Glynn grew up in Iowa around the manufacturing industry and despite working in software, he was still heavily embedded in manufacturing and involved in organizations like the Iowa Association of Business and Industry.

He started interviewing the owners and managers of manufacturing plants for his podcast and while touring one day, witnessed firsthand the frustrations that accompany an audit by a regulatory body after someone lost their hearing at work and filed a claim against the company.

“I was touring a lot of these manufacturing plants around the Midwest, kind of as a hobby but also on behalf of ABI and some of the volunteer work I was doing,” said Glynn. “That was the first time that I discovered how facilities manage the environmental impact on workers. These facilities test things like lighting, air quality and sound, and they do it on an annual basis.”

Glynn said that’s when he realized there was a huge opportunity to take that process and turn it into something that’s both portable and constantly gathering those types of conditional data.

That idea became MākuSafe, an armband communication device that captures everything from near-miss activity to quality assurance and LEAN reports. The armband is equipped with sensors to track environmental conditions around employees while they work and send data back the MākuSmart platform.

“Through the research, we found that more than 1,000 a day die in work accidents around the world. That’s 1,000 people a day who don’t go home from work and environmental factors can be a big part of that,” said Glynn. “In addition to that, hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on claims that really could and should have been avoided.”

Glynn said that often times, accidents have indicators leading up to them, whether those indicators are trends in data or trends in the environment. MākuSafe offers a system for gathering these data points and uses machine learning to analyze the data on a mass scale as a means of getting closer to predicting accidents.

“As people get close to the violating levels of regulatory rules, [the device] notifies safety and operations personnel of the level of exposure,” said Glynn. “They can then do something about it ahead of time before it becomes dangerous or damaging to the employee, and before it becomes a violation.”

The device is also capable of providing data on exactly where the potential violations are occuring.

“The other thing we wanted to be able to do was understand the location of where these spikes in incidents are happening,” said Glynn. “We’re able to keep track of paths through the facilities as people go walk around their workday.”

MākuSafe worked with Rowe Electronics in Iowa to create the hardware.

“They took our proof of concept device that we had made and turned it into something wearable,” said Glynn. “We got ten units in working with them and that’s when we started doing our beta testing.”

The company is now on its third round of beta testing and completed a recent round of fundraising.

“We opened this $1.25 million round of fundraising this summer and we raised our goal right away,” said Glynn. “The bulk of this money has been spent working with a company out of Silicon Valley called SurfaceInk that specializes in product development, specifically wearables.”

Being located in Iowa is a huge advantage to the company as they continue beta testing and move into selling the hardware.

“Our target customer right now are manufacturing, agricultural and logistics facilities. Just in the manufacturing sector alone, we have over 6,000 manufacturers in the state of Iowa,” said Glynn. “We made a decision early on that being close to our customers and being close to this ecosystem and this community was probably more advantageous for us than trying to be closer to venture capital [on the coasts].”

Iowa’s insurance hub is another draw to stay in the state. Glynn said he didn’t initially see MākuSafe working with the broader insurance industry right out of the gate, but as they discovered a gap between insurance carriers and the end-user companies, it made sense.

“We have real-time data, we can serve as a conduit to deliver these types of resources to the end-user customer in a way that’s active instead of reactive,” said Glynn. “Really trying to bridge that gap is one of the things that’s unique about MākuSafe. We’re not just a hardware company trying to gather data on the environment, we’re really a data company trying to connect the dots between critical resources and the end-user customer and their needs.”

Glynn added that there’s one more thing driving MākuSafe.

“Ultimately, our goal is to send more people home from work every single day.”

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Christine McGuigan is the Managing Editor of Silicon Prairie News.

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