Lumkani to represent SA at Chiva Regas Silicon Valley competition

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Fire detection startup Lumkani has won South Africa’s leg of Chivas Regal’s The Venture competition, walking away with US$50,000 and the opportunity to represent the country at the global competition in Silicon Valley.

Lumkani’s product – which has been sold and installed in 850 households – is an innovative fire detector designed to decrease shack fires and their spread. The networked heat-detector creates community-wide responses in fire situations coupled with smart units, which constantly sense the system and relay information remotely.

After being declared the winner of the South African leg of The Venture on Friday, the startup will now join others from the likes of the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK), China and Mexico at the final in July to compete for the US$1 million prize.

“Winning the Chivas Regal The Venture competition is an exciting opportunity for networking, publicity and mentorship. We will be engaging with some of the top minds in the sector and very proud to represent South Africa globally,” Lumkani founder David Gluckman told Disrupt Africa.

Lumkani was born out of the devastating shack fire that took place on January 1, 2013 in Khayelitsha, which proved a catalyst for research and development. Version one of the device was launched in November, with 850 devices sold so far and two fires already detected.

“We use heat detection technology which is proven to be most effective at sensing fires in already smoky environments,” said Gluckman. “The in-shack heat detector will ring when a fire is detected enabling the family in the home to respond proactively and possibly extinguish the fire. If this is not the case, the device will then trigger all devices within a 100-metre range of itself, using transmission technology, to create a community-wide alert.”

Gluckman said this served to proactively alert people of the danger.

“The critical challenge we want to address is both the personal safety aspect of one’s family in the home as well as the spread of the fire to the surrounding community,” he said.

The device and service is sold to government, international donor agencies, NGOs and shack-dwellers in high-density slums, with a low selling price of approximately ZAR100 (US$8.50) direct to customers.

“We see a huge opportunity for these large stakeholders to subsidise the cost of the device to ensure that there is rapid take-up and therefore the social impact can scale very quickly protecting communities in our country and worldwide,” Gluckman said.

“What stands out about Lumkani is that we are about business and impact – where both grow from the other at a similar rate. A quintessential social enterprise in its mission.”

He said the major challenge faced by Lumkani so far had been trying to reconcile on the one hand the “tech startup mantras of fail quickly, innovate faster and get back into the market” with social development considerations.

“We’re not dealing with a mobile app that tells you how many calories you burn in your sleep, we are potentially dealing with life and death and “failure” in our case can come at a very high price – trust. So we are trying a bit of both,” he said.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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