MākuSafe wants to use wearables to protect factory workers

Three of MakuSafe's wearable devices on display. (Courtesy of Gabe Glynn)

Gabe Glynn’s path to creating a company around wearable hardware is tied to family history, podcasting and a mix of ignorance.

“I don’t know that I would have necessarily dove into this project if I would have known just what all is involved. I didn’t realize how capital intensive it is, how resource intensive it is …” said Glynn, the co-founder of MākuSafe.

Based in Ankeny, MākuSafe is developing a wearable device for factory workers that would sense environmental conditions, such as noise levels and temperature. The hope, Glynn said, is to provide up-to-date safety information and prevent fatal injuries.

In the eight months since MākuSafe began, the company’s device has gone from a ‘gigantic’ beer-can sized alpha device to a smaller product workers can wear on their arms. Fourteen companies have agreed to beta test the device and MākuSafe has raised $325,000 from outside investors.

“Back in May we just started walking and we just kept going and doors kept opening,” Glynn said.

The most recent investment amount — $200,000 – comes from EMC Insurance, which announced its investment just last week. The Des Moines insurance firm has agreed to purchase about $340,000 of the wearable tech if MākuSafe has successful testing, Glynn said.

“We are serious about using data to find innovative solutions and are willing to invest in companies that can add value for our policyholders and agents,” said Scott Jean, EMC’s executive vice president for finance and analytics, in a statement. “In particular, we are looking for companies that make EMC and our independent agents stand out from others.”

MākuSafe had already raised $100,000 from angel investors and received a $25,000 loan from the state of Iowa, Glynn said.

The idea for MākuSafe came from talks with his father, a plant safety manager, about decibel levels and the inspection process after a worker is injured.

“It sparked this idea of why would you not want to track things like sound levels on people all the time and then alert somebody like my dad if they’re getting close to a dangerous level before that actually happens,” Glynn said.

Private manufacturers saw about 350 fatal injuries in 2015 and 2014, according to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report. There were 570 fatal work injuries in the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting sector in 2015.

Discussions with manufacturers for a podcast Glynn started last year also bolstered the idea and provided him with contacts within the industry.

Manufacturing, agriculture and logistics are MākuSafe’s initial focus areas. A go-to-market device, Glynn said, may test about 20 different environmental conditions and have the ability to recognize when workers slip and fall.

Glynn, though, also sees opportunity for his product with insurance companies. Wearable tech like his device, he said, is a natural offshoot of the telematics technology used to track driver behavior and adjust auto insurance premiums.

The company is looking at a larger funding round soon.

If it can secure that funding, Glynn said MākuSafe could have a market-ready product later this year.

“Speed is of the essence to us. We know that this industry, although it doesn’t exist right now, is one that a lot of people are starting to look at,” he said.

Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at mpatane@clayandmilk.com.