Sentinel Alert, a St. John’s start-up that is developing a wearable technology devoted to worker safety, has become the first company from Newfoundland and Labrador accepted into the prestigious Launch36 technology accelerator.
The company has spent about a year prototyping and validating technology that can tell large companies and/or governments when a lone worker — such as a lineman for an electricity company — has had an accident or is in jeopardy.
Co-founders Sarah Murphy and Jason Janes attended the Launch36 selection camp in Moncton earlier this month and were accepted into the Launch36 Start program in Fredericton. Murphy will relocate to Fredericton for the next three months, commuting regularly back to St. John’s, where she is conducting graduate studies at Memorial University. Janes expects to spend quite a bit of time in Fredericton as well.
The complete roster of companies in the most recent Launch36 cohort will be announced at the Startup Empire conference today. When the accelerator began three years ago, the organizers aimed for a truly regional program. And now the latest cohort has representation from all four Atlantic Provinces.
By working with the Launch36 mentors, they hope to devise a path to market for a product that requires industrial partners.
“Our business is targeting a hot topic in that Newfoundland is in a huge industrial boom and worker safety is a big issue,” said CEO Murphy in a recent interview in St. John’s. “But what we’re finding is that there is a tricky sales cycle in this business.”
Sentinel Alert grew out of an idea that germinated at St. John’s’ first Startup Weekend last November. During the 54-hour entrepreneurship competition, Murphy and her team developed a basic prototype for a smartphone app that would detect a sudden jolt — the likely result of a worker, say, falling of a ladder or collapsing after a heart attack. The cellphone would then automatically contact a central monitoring station, which could call the worker to see if he or she were all right.
The company has since develope dsoftware that leverages existing wearable technologies, such as smart wristwatches. Murphy eventually hopes the technology could be built into safety vests or hard hats.
For the past several months, Sentinel Alert has been building relationships with oil and gas companies and construction companies that could be potential customers. The feedback has been positive, though it has yet to sign its first customer.
The company says there are 27 million lone workers in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. The cost of monitoring these workers is now estimated to be $3.3 billion annually, even though companies fall incredibly short of the regulations overseeing such monitoring procedures.
Despite the size of the market, securing the first customer has proven complicated because the client and startup would have to work out the bugs and processes to maximize the product’s efficiency. One avenue may be to tap into the pool of money that oil and gas companies have to spend in research and development as part of their contracts to work on the province’s offshore industry.
Once the product is on the market, Sentinel Alert plans wants to examine the data for telltale signs that an accident could happen. For example, the devise can measure elevation, and might be able to determine when workers are putting themselves in danger.
Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support start-up companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies are featured in this column nor do they have the right to review columns before they are published.