The new decade has a promising start for a West Des Moines-based wearable technology safety company – as MākuSafe prepares for a small-scale market launch of its flagship armband and software system for industrial employers.

MākuSafe will distribute about 8,000 wearable devices to initial customers in U.S.-based manufacturing facilities, or up to 80 devices per client, during the initial market debut. The company plans to scale releases up in 2021 after having a year to track progress on initial customers, CEO Gabriel Glynn said. 

“What we want to learn throughout 2020 as we deploy those 8,000 units is how to systematize our processes for deployment, how to automate as much of that as possible and streamline those things so that we don’t have to be as high-touch when we do actually deploy the product,” Glynn said. 

The MākuSafe wearable technology system is a two-piece wearable hardware armband designed for industrial employees that gathers environmental data, such as location and motion speed, and auto-records near-miss accident indicators. 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. Those collected data points can assist managers in determining what causes the near-miss accidents; MākuSafe’s four-month pilot this past summer covered about 200 industrial workers wearing the armbands for about 75,000 hours.

“One of the things that’s really exciting about the companies that we’re already got signed up is if we look at the quantity of workers that we would be covering if we allowed all of them to cover their entire workforce … we’d be talking about 150,000 workers,” Glynn said. “There’s still quite a bit of potential reach even just within our existing customer base, so when we talk about 2020 small scale for us that’s by design – but 2021 could end up being a significant jump.”

The company is getting a lot of airtime internationally: MākuSafe was recently named the 2019 ACORD InsuTech Innovation Challenge award winner in Boston, and was invited by organizers of the New Japan Summit to meet with legacy Japanese corporations at Stanford University to showcase MākuSafe’s employee safety technology. 

To cap off 2019, MākuSafe recently raised about $1.5 million from current investors – with the addition of Colin Hurd, founder of Smart Ag, which was recently acquired by Raven Industries of Sioux Falls. 

“There’s a lot of value in hardware companies that get it right. There’s a little bit more risk, too,” Hurd said. “I think [it’s] an important thing to be able to support Iowa companies and Iowa businesses, and help provide more momentum for this ecosystem.” 

“Iowa is arguably the most advanced place in the world for developing ag equipment and technology. There’s a lot of synergy, I think, between the manufacturing industry that Gabe serves and the ag industry,” he added.

MākuSafe has raised about $6 million since founding in 2016, Glynn said. 

“That’s investment dollars that aren’t going to other startups and I take that very seriously. I know that the best thing I can do for the startup founder that has yet to start, or that’s just down the street getting started, is to be successful,” Glynn said. “If I’m successful than the folks that invested in our company will be successful, and they’re going to be a lot more likely to turn around and get capital back into the ecosystem.” 

Opportunities ahead

Hurd’s role changed from Smart Ag CEO to the Business Development Manager of Raven Industries’ autonomous division, now based in Smart Ag’s Ames headquarters along with the 25 existing Smart Ag employees. 

“Hopefully it brings other companies to start looking in this area. A lot of times companies [seeking mergers and acquisitions] are not looking at the midwest, because historically this has not been a location where you’re going to find high-tech companies that can add a lot of value to whatever the business is that you’re in,” Hurd said. “I think now as other people in the industry start to see successful tech companies and acquisitions happening in the midwest region, I think it drives more attention to the area.” 

Glynn sees Smart Ag’s successful November acquisition as a sign of growth for Central Iowa’s startup community.

“As we talked to folks in venture capital … I asked them specifically, what was the tipping point that made it so all of the sudden your startup community really accelerated? Across the board every one of them said successful entrepreneurs,” Glynn said. “Once they had some successful exits and those entrepreneurs decided to reinvest in their community, like what Colin is doing, that was the tipping point for them. I feel like that’s one of the biggest opportunities right now for our startup community here in Des Moines. We’re still young.”