How a Kenya-founded manufacturing tech startup is going big in the US

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Manufacturing tech leader Guidewheel, which began life as Safi in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, is targeting faster expansion in the United States (US) after raising Series A funding.

Disrupt Africa reported in July Guidewheel, which was based out of Nairobi as Safi from 2018-2020, had closed a US$8 million Series A funding round. A leader in cloud-powered factory operations, empowering factories to digitise their operations and reach sustainable peak performance, the startup’s plug-and-play platform clips onto any machine on the factory floor, delivering real-time visibility that reduces lost production and improves performance. 

Guidewheel chief executive officer (CEO) and co-founder Lauren Dunford said the initial focus of the startup when it launched was a “leapfrog” solution for emerging markets. The first version was built with factories in Nairobi, Dunford’s husband’s hometown, optimising for value and ease of use. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic made that combo of “low lift, high return” increasingly important worldwide,” Dunford told Disrupt Africa. This prompted a rebrand and launch in North America in June 2020, and Guidewheel has quickly grown to reach over 100 factories. Though the startup still retains about 30 per cent of its customer base in Nairobi, it is now focused on sales in the US.

“FactoryOps is a new category of technology we’ve introduced that uses the power of the cloud to bring any machine on the factory floor online, and provide real-time visibility into problems and performance on an ongoing basis,” Dunford said. 

“Historically, only the biggest factories have had great systems to operate at peak efficiency, but those systems are inaccessible to 99 per cent of factories. We’ve built a platform that democratizes those real-time tools, making them plug-and-play to be accessible to anyone. And because of the cloud, every new factory that joins helps make the platform smarter and better for everyone.”

Other systems can take months to train complicated data models or leave users sifting through a sandbox, even after lengthy installations and expensive consultants. 

“With urgent goals and tight budgets, most manufacturers can’t afford to wait months for results. A mountain of data is useless if it doesn’t translate into results on the ground. Guidewheel is low-lift and high return – clip it onto any machine and unlock big wins right away,” said Dunford.

The startup has therefore seen “terrific” uptake. 

“There’s a tonne of demand – especially now – for low lift, high return solutions like Guidewheel that empower teams to get more out of their existing machines and then accelerate their impact over time,” said Dunford.

The startup does not plan to settle with just North American and East African operations, however, and hopes to expand globally over the coming years. 

“Our goal is to empower all the world’s 10 million factories to reach sustainable peak performance,” said Dunford.

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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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