Vulnerable And At-risk Workers Can Protect Themselves With The Kenzen Patch

April 16, 2020

Why we invested in Kenzen

Hundreds of millions of workers around the globe face dangerously hot conditions in their workplaces. This includes over 700M people in critical industries such as construction, manufacturing, mining, energy, and maritime who are at risk of heat stress. A globally warming climate will only make conditions hotter and more dangerous for workers. Heat stress is a factor in many types of on-the-job injuries, and may sometimes its role may be hidden, but for particularly vulnerable worker populations, it can be life-threatening. In 2019 The Guardian’s investigation into the construction sector in Qatar ahead of the 2022 World Cup concluded that hundreds of migrant laborers – primarily young men – are dying from heat stress annually.

COVID-19 has put a global spotlight on the personal protective equipment (PPE) category in 2020, but Working Capital Investment Fund’s most recent investment, Kenzen, has been building and refining its Smart PPE technology platform for years to deliver real-time worker health insights. Kenzen’s mission is to predict and prevent industrial workforce injuries due to heat, exertion, and fatigue. It leverages a small, flexible “patch” worn on the upper arm or torso to receive real-time physiological data, which is combined with predictive models to provide health observations and notifications that keep workers safe in strenuous work settings. The team is focused on assisting workers to protect themselves.

There are numerous startups in the growing wearables market, but we are particularly excited about Kenzen because of their innovative way of bringing worker engagement, safety, and transparency to the forefront:

Making safety a priority in a practical manner: Kenzen offers a small flexible device that enables workers and their employers to identify heat-related risks and avoid heat-related injuries, some of which can be serious and even fatal. Within the broader category of the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT), there has been an emphasis on putting sensors around the environment to measure performance and upkeep of machinery and equipment but little monitoring of the health and safety of individuals. Kenzen’s targeted emphasis on temperature, fatigue, and over-exertion addresses tangible and significant physiological vulnerabilities that workers face across many industrial settings.

Transparency and emphasis on the education of workers regarding their rights: A worker will receive her own real-time biometric data, worksite temperature and humidity information, and alerts on when she can stop and start work. During onboarding, the worker is informed about the Company’s privacy policy with an ability to consent or opt-out. Businesses that use the patch will receive anonymized data providing them better information on worker vulnerability that can quickly and directly be used to drive remedial action. Workers who through the patch identify themselves to be at risk, should in a well-functioning workplace have an opportunity to take steps to protect and advocate for themselves. Kenzen provides information on which workers and employers can take steps to avoid heat stress injuries and disruption.

WCIF is excited to work together with Kenzen’s team, which brings together experienced entrepreneurs from the wearables and technology space. Dr. Sonia Sousa, the founder, was a scientist who understood the potential of using physiological parameters, such as sweat analysis, to know when something isn’t right with a person’s health. CEO Nora Levinson, an engineer from Stanford University, has worked in various roles at SkullCandy, Jawbone, Caeden, and Harman, including in factories in China. Heidi Lehmann, Chief Commercialization Officer, is a serial entrepreneur with previous exits in mobile technology and media. We think this mix of expertise perfectly positions Kenzen to take on the challenge of helping reduce worker vulnerability and save lives.

The Fund has evaluated the potential of sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT) and believe these tools can be used to generate information that can support labor rights outcomes. We are proud to partner with Kenzen as they continue their journey on this path.