Detroit’s GuardHat Snags $20M Series A for Industrial IoT Platform

Hundreds of people in the U.S. die from industrial accidents every year, according to federal data. Part of the reason manufacturing jobs remain so deadly, argues GuardHat co-founder and CEO Saikat Dey, is because the sector’s technology has not progressed as rapidly as it has in the enterprise software and consumer tech markets.

This week, Detroit-based industrial “Internet of Things” startup GuardHat announced it raised a $20 million Series A funding round. The investment was led by RTP Ventures, with participation from 3M Ventures, Caterpillar Ventures, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, Silicon Valley Bank, and Detroit Venture Partners. (GuardHat also has offices in Paris; Chicago; Boulder, CO; and Bangalore, India.)

Dey and co-founder Anupam Sengupta, who serves as the company’s chief technical officer, launched GuardHat to tackle an issue—“safety and managing the consequences of accidents”—they encountered when working as executives for Severstal, a multinational steel and mining corporation.

“When we started [GuardHat] in 2014, we had a problem in need of a solution,” Sengupta says.

At Severstal, they had searched a long time to find technical solutions to worker safety, but kept running into a problem: factories aren’t known for prioritizing great Internet access. In some ways, Dey says, that’s by design. “You don’t want people operating equipment while they’re texting, or taking pictures of the production line,” he explains. “The basic proliferation of technology is not happening on the plant floor the way it is on the consumer side. Heavy manufacturing, mining—those sectors are being left behind from a technological perspective.”

GuardHat, which says it holds eight patents on “connected worker, real-time location systems, and wearable solutions,” combines proprietary software with an Internet-enabled hardhat to help remotely track what workers are looking at, and try to predict accidents and intervene in dangerous situations in real time, Dey says. Most manufacturing operations have a team in charge of worker safety, he adds, and those are the employees that would monitor the GuardHat system.

The company’s technology “helps address where a person is within a 3D space and shows the environment around them with context and biometrics,” Dey says. “For example, I can offer help remotely by looking through the [hardhat’s] camera and saying, ‘Turn that knob to the left.’ It runs analytics and gives a holistic view, and that information can be the difference between life and death.”

“How can we accept such high numbers of worker fatalities and such a paucity of technology?” Dey continues. “GuardHat is not a nice-to-have dating app.”

There are many other players in the crowded industrial IoT space, with GE’s Predix and Bosch IoT Suite among the better-known products. And Heads Up Display is another startup developing connected devices to help keep industrial workers safe.

The 26-person GuardHat, which has raised a total of $24 million in venture funding since its inception, plans to launch its product commercially at a National Safety Council conference being held in late October in Houston, TX. Although he wouldn’t disclose who they are on the record, Dey says GuardHat is working with partners consisting of large software companies and manufacturers to integrate its software into their systems.

GuardHat is entering the industrial market first, but the company sees other future use cases for its technology. Not only is it applicable to millions of industrial jobs around the world, Dey maintains, it also has military, first responder, and even consumer applications. He uses his wife as an example.

“She’s a paranoid parent, so say she doesn’t want our son to ride his bike outside of our cul-de-sac. She could draw a geofence around the area [using the GuardHat software] and then get an alert from the bike helmet” if he left the designated area, Dey says.

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