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Building tech for worker safety, Guardhat Technologies is a company that could only come from Detroit

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Saikat Dey, the founder of Detroit’s own Guardhat Technologies, began working in the steel industry. Before founding Guardhat, his most recent position was as Chief Executive Officer of Severstal International, the multinational steel conglomerate headquartered in Dearborn, Michigan.

There, who ran the fourth largest steelmaker’s global operations by volume and revenue with 3,600 employees in Mississippi, Michigan and the West Virginia Coal Mines, Dey was obsessed with safety, he said.

In addition to tracking cash flow and EBITDA, the typical numbers companies use, Dey said occupational safety was another metric that drove compensation. “”One of the most important metrics is how well and how confidently we keep our people on the front lines, “said Dey.

Dey’s concerns about the safety of his factories led him to reach out to union leaders and begin developing the technology that would be at the core of Guardhat’s offerings.

The company introduces a multi-product intelligent safety system that integrates wearable technology and proprietary software to detect, alert and prevent hazardous industrial accidents.

Investors such as Dan Gilbert’s Detroit Venture Partners, General Catalyst and RTP Ventures, the venture investment firm led by Leonid Boguslavsky, co-founder of Ru-Net Holdings, support Dey’s vision, which also penetrates the most important audience of all parties, the unions representing the workers who use the company’s technology.

Notes on the first day brainstorming session for Guardhat’s Industrial Wearable. Image Credit: Guardhat

Made in Detroit, built for the world’s industrial workers

Around fifteen workers are killed every day while working in industrial workplaces such as mining, metals, and oil and gas, and an additional 3 million people are injured each year. For executives in the industry, the problem is both financial and ethical. In Severstal, 40 percent of Dey’s salary is linked to the safety of the workers, he said.

The story goes on

Indeed, the idea hit Guardhat Dey while walking the floor of the Detroit steel mill. On one of his regular walks around the factory, Dey said he was walking past a man working on a device when the employee’s carbon monoxide alarm started buzzing. Instead of trying to find the source of the leak, the man turned off his monitor.

“You are participating in a steel mill in the heart of Detroit with the largest blast furnace in North America,” said Dey. “Whatever that person did, it could have resulted in a catastrophic accident.”

That inspired Guardhat’s technology, which Dey said was designed to answer some simple, situational questions that apply to any factory around the world: Where are you? What conditions are you facing? When can we help you? These are the questions that Guardhat technology is designed to answer.

“We didn’t have any effective means of preventing an accident from intervening in time,” said Dey.

The technology may have been developed by executives, but was developed in consultation with the leaders of the Detroit area unions to ensure workers are actually using the product.

“”We decided to do this in September 2014, “said Dey.” And when I was struggling with the question of if I should scratch that itch and start the company, the unionists said do it and do it … I was a person of color with an income statement of $ 6 billion who operates one of the six largest steel manufacturers in the USA and literally builds this out of the garage. It took a lot of courage and stupidity, and it took a lot of support from regular friends in the UAW. ”

This collaboration ensured that the union workers felt confident that the information was not generated and stored in such a way that the workers did not feel unnecessarily or criminally monitored.

Guardhat Technologies wearable safety helmet. Image Credit Guardhat Technologies

From prototype to product

The company’s first product was the HC1 – a helmet packed full of sensor equipment. “You want to put it on something that everyone wears and must wear,” Dey said.

At first the thought was to just create the wearable, but over time Dey and his team realized that the device alone would not be enough. “The helmet is just another form factor … [and] Regardless of the form factor, you need to know how to make this information the single source of truth for the platform of all things that surround the worker. “

Like dozens of other Detroit area startups standing before them, they turned to Dan Gilbert first when Dey and his team needed to raise funds.

Gilbert tested the prototype by walking around a building and asking the GuardHat team if they could find him and tell him where they thought he was.

With Gilbert on board, the product design firm’s and 3M’s frog labs came into play. By then, it was time to test the prototype.

“I still remember the first day we tested in a third-party certified lab in Akron, Ohio,” said Dey sadly. These guys dropped a metal ball from 5 meters away and each of these pups was $ 3,000 each, and 27 of these hats were ground into powder, “Dey said.” We failed every test because we didn’t know how to build a helmet. “

Support from frogs and others brought the device across the finish line and it is now used by over 5,000 workers, preventing or alerting workers to at least 2,000 potentially dangerous incidents.

For Dey, the business could only come from Detroit. “The Detroit thing is symbolic,” he said. It is a symbol of the school of hard knocks that trained the founding team in the way these heavy industries work.

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Dusty Kennedy