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MākuSafe wants to use wearables to protect factory workers

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

MākuSafe wants to use wearables to protect factory workers | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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