At this time of year, residential fires tend to make the headlines, largely due to fires attributed to faulty Christmas lights. However, there are over 170,000 home fires each year due to stoves and other home cooking equipment. In fact, approximately half of all residential fires are caused by a burning stove. Property damage exceeds $1.2 Billion each year but the toll to human life is staggering. Each year in the US, more than 510 people die as a result of a stove-top fire, nearly 5,500 are injured, countless pets perish and thousands of people are displaced from their homes.
But there is a solution that could stop half of all residential fires. Consumers can buy it, easily DIY install it with magnetic connectors and protect themselves for only $165. Grit Daily caught up with Mark Baldino, CEO of FireBot Suppression, at Philadelphia’s Funding Post networking event and pitch contest, to learn more.
Baldino opened with,
“In the beginning, man invented fire and it was good. Then he decided to bring the fire indoors, and it wasn’t good.” ~Mark Baldino
Indeed, smoke detectors are good at doing what they say they’re going to do, which is to detect smoke, but they don’t put out fires. And water sprinklers, which are typically installed in industrial and commercial buildings, are ineffective at putting out oil fires burning on stoves. (and are not typically found in homes) The FireBot Suppression device, however, not only detects the fire, it puts it out.
Grit Daily: Tell us how something that typically costs $6,000 and up in a restaurant kitchen can detect and put out a stove-top fire for under $200.
Mark Baldino: We’ve done extensive testing, design, and development to get it to this attractive price-point. It’s battery-operated and fits inconspicuously into the vent or hood above your stove. When it detects an abnormally high temperature, a few things happen in parallel. One, it sends out a signal to alert the home monitoring service, property owner or management company that there is a fire. Two, it immediately (within seconds of detecting abnormal heat) releases a non-toxic, water-based fire suppressant which can effectively squelch even nasty, 4-burner oil fires. Three, with the new WiFi-enabled feature that we’re adding, it will also trip a breaker for an electric stove and shunt the gas flow for a gas stove, thereby shutting down the source of additional fuel.
GD: Success can be a cause of failure for startups. You’ve just pre-sold 84,000 units. Now what?
MB: It’s the “problem” that every business owner dreams of having but it’s also the nightmare that keeps every founder awake. We want to deliver a quality product, particularly given the important life-saving role of our device. We are redesigning the circuit board, adding in features such as pin connectors’ vs. screw terminals, adding a battery recharging port, quicker reacting temperature thermistors. The engineers are taking more time than anticipated but the good news, the boards are due out any day. Prior to this order, we’ve been making small batches for testing and demonstrations. Now, we’re ramping up quickly to scale our business and enable us to deliver large orders. We’re not quite there yet, but we have brought in experts to help us with this opportunity.
GD: Where are you in your funding journey at this time? You’ve had a successful crowd-funding round on StartEngine, but you stated that you were seeking additional cash for a UL-certification round.
MB: We’ve bootstrapped this company, essentially self-funding, crowd-funding, and have just received some help from our first angel investor. We’re currently in discussions with a potential big investor who wants to help us navigate business alliances to grow through sales versus investments. To date, we have a working, tested, patented product. We can make FireBots in small batches, but, to scale production, we need investors. We’re seeking $26K for an injection mold, $75K for a UL300A certification to formalize our test results, and $450K to manufacture 10,000 units.
GD: Where do you plan to take the technology from here?
MB: WiFi, Z-Wave and ZigBee integration will soon enable monitoring and alerting through smart-home and personal assistant IoT devices. In addition to ramping up our manufacturing capabilities, we’ve been investing in R&D research to address another problem commonly experienced in multi-family housing. Specifically, tenants are infamous for leaving their showers or bathtubs running, or at least dripping, to the point where so much water accumulates on the bathroom floor over time that the ceiling sags or caves in on the resident(s) below. That sounds like a problem you see in the movies but it’s actually one that landlords and property owners pay hundreds of millions of dollars each year to remedy. So we’ve created a WaterBug which sits on the bathroom floor. Its radio frequency is zoned into the FireBot Suppression device and, with sustained immersion underwater, the WaterBug will send out a signal to the tenant and property manager warning of potential water damage. We are also designing environmental monitoring for each unit to detect freezing, power outages, CO2, natural gas, and other events.
GD: Is battery-life an issue?
MB: Our devices are equipped with a low-battery monitoring solution, which alerts their owners to the issue. The batteries are easy to recharge via a USB port. One overnight charge will last for up to 3 years based on our tests.
GD: There are 100 Million kitchens in the US that could benefit from this life-saving device. It’s a great Christmas gift idea for the person who has everything! We hope to see one in every kitchen.