Three years after founding, MākuSafe, a technology wearables company focused on workplace safety, closed on a $2.85 million seed round in December.

It launches what staff promises to be a busy year for the wearable safety device company: five pilot testing programs have finished or are underway, with 120 industrial workers currently trying out the armband system, and MākuSafe has arranged with partners to begin another pilot program in the second quarter of 2019. By the third quarter, MākuSafe will launch its safety devices commercially; already, the company says they have more than $4 million in contracted sales.

“We’ve been testing in the field with earlier generation hardware for a couple of years now and collected millions of data points,” said Tom West, Strategic Relations Manager for MākuSafe. “This will be an opportunity for us to field test our go-to-market product.”

“We have just a small number of workers wearing our devices, but it gives us an opportunity to really find out how the devices work in the real world, get feedback from potential customers, and then really look for opportunities to help make a safer workplace for those companies,” West added.

Safety is the driving mission of MākuSafe, co-founded by CEO Gabriel Glynn and CTO Mark Frederick. Officing out of Maple Ventures, the company creates a two-piece wearable hardware armband that gathers environmental data, such as location and motion speed, and auto-records near-miss accident indicators.

When a workplace accident happens in an industrial facility, the typical claim is reported by the National Safety Council to be about $46,000, West said.

“In the United States, in excess of $1.2 billion is paid out in workers’ compensation claims every week,” West said.

In the MākuSafe system, each employee is given their own armband and checks out a wearable sensor from a MākuSafe base station when they arrive at work. That sensor collects data associated with the worker’s environment throughout the day – location, time, trips or falls – and automatically reports that data to the system cloud throughout the day, before employees check the detached sensor back into the base station at the end of a shift.  

Through the MākuSmart online portal, company managers can then view predictive data gathered by workers’ armband sensors to identify recurring near-misses and any environmental factors causing workplace risks – whether there are an uptick in workers tripping at a particular location, for example. Those collected data points can assist managers in determining what causes the near-miss accidents, such as a growing crack in the facility floor.

The team is working with its second generation of the hardware device, with five previous prototypes developed over time with assistance from a team of engineers in California.

EMC Insurance, a lead investor in MākuSafe, is partnering in the startup pilots to see how MākuSafe’s armband sensor could inform or affect policyholders’ workers compensation insurance plans.

“Every day in America, over 20 million workers go to work in manufacturing, logistics facilities, shipping, receiving warehousing .. and commercial agricultural facilities,” Glynn said. “We’re focused on those workers. They all share something in common – they’re located inside a building, they have a physical location … Those are high-risk jobs that tend to be the most dangerous.”

Iowa is also a hotbed of manufacturing and commercial agricultural jobs in the country, Glynn said.

“There’s over 6,000 manufacturing companies in the state of Iowa. There’s obviously a lot of logistics facilities, we’re at the crosshairs of Interstate 35 and 80,” Glynn said. “We thought focusing on those folks that we have a lot of access to and knowledge of makes a lot of sense before we look at some of the other verticals. There are still about another 20 million American workers that go to work in oil, gas, forestry, construction and mining, and other areas that are also high-risk.”

Many of the smaller companies in these industries don’t have full-time safety managers who can get the insight needed to prevent accidents, Frederick said. For the companies that do, safety managers have struggled to make the near-miss reporting process simple enough that workers take time out of their shift to complete it, while receiving enough detail to understand where, why and how the incident happened.

After surpassing the capital goal of $2 million in MākuSafe’s last round, the staff expanded from three to six, and have plans to hire again soon.

“There’s a variety of ways that we can approach scaling to market and … depending on where those relationships end up will really dictate what our scaling looks like,” Glynn said. “That old saying – ‘if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.’ So finding a partner that allows us to look at the longer term vision of – how do we take this to the corners of the earth, where there’s workers everywhere that could use this thing.”