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From wearable technology startup Kwema, a sincere hope that it never has to be used

Oakley accelerator backs hidden panic button
From wearable technology startup Kwema, a sincere hope that it never has to be used
Posted at 8:00 AM, Feb 11, 2017

CINCINNATI -- Kwema is a Swahili word that means, “I’m safe. I’m fine. Everything’s OK.”

It’s also the name of a startup that aims to make people safe.

Kwema, which is part of the latest class of the OCEAN Accelerator in Oakley, plans to make bracelets with a hidden panic button people can press when they’re in trouble. Pressing the button sends a message to one’s mobile phone, which sends an alert to one’s family and friends, along with location information. It also sends a proximity-based message to people in the vicinity.

Whose idea was this?

Carmina Santamaria, a native of Bolivia, conceived it in late 2014 after a friend was kidnapped. The kidnapping was widely publicized, and after three days the kidnappers let her friend go.

The incident prompted Santamaria to wonder, “What if we could have a magic watch or bracelet that would magically call for help” in that kind of situation. One of her business partners, Ali Jabry, a native of Kenya, told her he thought it was a cool idea.

"I was like, ‘You really think so?’" Santamaria said.

They put a team together and started applying to business accelerators. In 2016, they were accepted into Launch Alaska, received a $25,000 investment and spent a summer in Anchorage. Toward the end of the year, they were accepted into OCEAN, received a $50,000 investment and moved to the Tri-State area.

They’ve also invested about $10,000 of their own funds in the business, Santamaria said.

OCEAN liked Kwema because the team had worked together on a previous startup, they had showed the expertise needed to bring a product to market and they already had a prototype, said OCEAN Program Director Ian Smith.

“They had all the pieces we like to see in a startup,” Smith said. And there is absolutely a need for the product, he added.

How will it make money?

The bracelets will sell for $89 each, Santamaria said, and the company plans to charge a service fee of $2.90 per month. In pre-sales, 500 people have already signed up for the service, she said.

How big is the potential market?

As big as the number of people who want to feel safe. One in four U.S. women are sexually assaulted while in college, and sometimes these attacks happen before the victim can get to her phone, Santamaria said.

Wearable technology like this is a $40 billion market worldwide, she added.

Who else is on the team?

It’s quite an international lineup. In addition to Santamaria and Jabry, there’s Carlos Villavicencio from Ecuador, and Caio Ferretti from Brazil.

What’s next?

The company’s gearing up to start manufacturing, Santamaria said, and expects to have the product ready for market at the end of May. The team also plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign by the end of March.

One of the most challenging aspects of building the company has already begun -- the creation of safety-minded communities of people willing to act when they get help messages.

Kwema has been signing up such “safety ambassadors,” men and women who work to empower women or who want to make a difference in helping to stop gender-based violence.

“We are actually betting on community development,” Santamaria said. “It requires everyone to take a stand and say, ‘I can be part of the solution.’”