Fire detection startup Lumkani set to launch across South Africa

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South African startup Lumkani, which sells early warning fire detection systems for informal settlements, will expand outside of the Western Cape and across the country in the next few months.

A social enterprise, Lumkani says its mission is to address the challenge of shack and slum fires in urban informal settlements in South Africa and across the globe.

The startup has been at the centre of attention recently, last month winning the South African 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.

As part of this campaign, Lumkani will next month launch a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, raising funds to put 3,000 fire detection devices in high fire risk households across South Africa. The company has also ranked highly for the Innovation Prize for Africa and Seedstars World.

Co-founder Emily Vining said expansion outside the Western Cape would take place in the coming months, but Lumkani is also thinking bigger.

“As this product has global application for all dense informal settlements in developing countries we are building pipelines for global expansion,” she said.

“We are currently formalising our feedback from our end-users through our post implementation study which is an exercise intensely focused on listening to our end-user. The informal feedback we have received has been resoundingly positive and enthusiastic especially since we have already stopped the spread of two fires in our pilot community. We have received input into how to increase our penetration and how best to explain how the technology works.”

So how does the technology work? Lumkani’s fire detection system consists of heat detectors for individual homes, networked with RF and centralized units that detect when the mesh network is triggered, sending SMSs with GPS location to community leaders and the local fire department to alert them of the danger.

“We work with local people from community leadership structures to distribute the Lumkani heat detector,” Vining said.

“We sell devices directly to people living in informal settlements and we have structured a service provision package whereby local government will be able to lease the system, creating a recurring revenue stream.”

Lumkani was based on research conducted by co-founder Francois Petousis for his thesis, which was then taken forward in light of a 2013 fire in Khayelitsha that left 4,000 people homeless.

An accelerated research and development phase began early last year when the startup received seed funding from South Africa’s Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) to prove its concept and value through a pilot project.

Vining believes Lumkani fills a glaring gap in the market, meaning it is able to save lives while planning for profitability.

“Shack fires are a frequent and devastating occurrence in the Western Cape and in dense informal settlement across the globe. Each year during the summer time in Cape Town – especially over the festive season – newspapers are awash with headlines of the destruction of fires in our communities,” she said.

“We are the first to create a networked early warning fire detection system leveraging a mesh network, which operates completely offline with an additional layer of smart city technology that warning that provides locational information to local fire departments.”

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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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