This Small, Networked Detector Can Protect Millions From Devastating Shack Fires

09/10/2015 7:42 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
Rodger Bosch via Getty Images
People look through the remains of burnt homes after a fire raged through the BM Informal Settlement, in Khayelitsha, on January 1, 2013, in Cape Town. Several unrelated fires ripped through informal settlements in Cape Town killing at least three people and leaving at least 4,000 homeless on New Year's Day, officials said. AFP PHOTO / RODGER BOSCH (Photo credit should read RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images)

When you have a multi-disciplinary team consisting of three mechatronic engineers, an industrial designer, a social scientist and an entrepreneur all coming together to tackle a very significant yet avoidable social challenge, you know the result is going to be interesting.

At Lumkani though, the result isn't just interesting, it's lifesaving as well.

Their product is an innovative fire detector designed to reduce shack fires and the destruction they cause. The device is a heat detector instead of smoke detector, which reduces false alarms, and all the devices in a 60-metre radius are networked together in order to create a community wide response in the result of a fire.

Lumkani's plan is to significantly reduce the loss of life and property that creates a cycle of poverty for the poorest people on the planet. By utilising technology to help those in most need of it, Lumkani have created a business that is both socially minded and destined to be a global success.

Lumkani's David Gluckam will be joining Chivas at The Venture finals in San Francisco. Here, he answers a few questions about the business.

Where did you get the idea for Lumkani?

The devastating fires that took place in Khayelitsha, an informal settlement in South Africa, on New Year's Day 2013 were the catalyst for the research and development that brought us to our first product launch. This tragic event brought together a multidisciplinary team that turned theory into reality in order to help mitigate the loss of life and property associated with the rampant spread of shack fires. Our early warning detection system has its roots in an Engineering Honours thesis of Francois Petousis, and the first version was launched on the 21st November 2014.

Why did you set out to become a social entrepreneur?

After studying Economics I began my career in banking and then management consulting. From my economics days I knew that there was more to life than just making profit for profit's sake. While working in a corporate setting, I was inspired to search for applications that have more than one goal, those that could add more than just shareholder value. I took a break from consulting to see what opportunities existed in the realm of entrepreneurship, with a focus on improving society. Lumkani can create significant social impact, but to do this the tools of efficiency and marketing are important in sustaining the organisation's growth, research and future development.

What advice would you give to the aspiring social entrepreneurs out there?

The biggest lesson for any start-up in this space is to understand the full picture of your problem. Don't play into or create propaganda, see the challenge for what it is and investigate it all. You must engage deeply with your target market, building strong and mutually beneficial relationships with your customers. When designing solutions specifically for the challenge faced, collaborate with the people on the ground. You can't just build pretty ideas and expect them to play out in reality. Be unattached to the outcome of your work though, because it will certainly be unexpected. Test your hypothesis constantly and if you fail, that's one failure down and seven to go.

Where would you like to see your business in five years' time?

We want to be a globally recognised and trusted brand in more than four million households across the world, with strong partnerships and contracts with governments. We'd also like to have deployed our technology in a different application in the early warning space, and be a profitable social enterprise that creates meaningful jobs in all of our markets. We want to see a radical reduction in the loss of life and property in the communities we serve, as well as a dramatic redirection of household funds into savings and investments. Most importantly though, we would like to see the money we save governments from disaster relief and infrastructure replacement being channelled into productive means that'll improve communities' wellbeing in other areas, developing infrastructure and creating additional jobs.

Who is an inspiration to you?

Entrepreneurs like Elon Musk are an inspiration to me. He worked long, hard, smart and innovatively to challenge the status quo and create brilliant things. As he has grown his organisation, he's not lost touch with the tenets of innovation and "creative destruction". We are a blip on the timeline of life on Earth, so I am inspired by people who are creating things to not only advance our civilisation, but for the betterment of all.

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