With climate change triggering a rise in events like hurricanes, floods and wildfires, Kahi is seeing growing demand for its technology that tracks cleanup equipment in disaster areas.
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With climate change triggering a rise in events like hurricanes, floods and wildfires, an Ottawa startup’s high-tech sensors are providing a beacon of support for companies that clean up the damage from those disasters. Kahi is the brainchild of local entrepreneurs Kevin Dooley and Marc Lennox, who launched the firm in 2019. Chris Wise, who previously helped create online health-care platform Fullscript – one of the capital’s fastest-growing tech companies of the past decade – joined the upstart enterprise the following year, giving it valuable scaleup expertise. Dooley doubles as chief operating officer of Restoration Co., a firm that works with contractors across Canada and the U.S. to restore properties that have been ravaged by incidents such as hurricanes and floods. After years in the business, he realized he and his clients had tried “everything under the sun” – from old-fashioned pen and paper to QR codes – to keep track of the array of dehumidifiers, air filtration systems and other pricey equipment that’s used to clean up homes and other areas after natural disasters and mitigate the impact of the damage. But knowing exactly where all that hardware is being used and ensuring it gets returned safely to its proper source after the cleanup chaos is over continues to be a giant headache for the industry, Dooley explains. A tech buff at heart, he figured there had to be a better way to manage those resources. That’s where Lennox came in. Dooley’s former colleague and an aerospace engineer by training, Lennox is a longtime tech exec whose previous ventures include Mxi Technologies, an aviation software firm he helped launch in the mid-1990s that eventually grew to hundreds of employees. Three years ago, the pair began developing prototypes of sensors that could be attached to equipment at disaster restoration sites and tracked using GPS surveillance technology. One day in 2020, the pair asked their friend Wise, who had recently stepped down from his role as chief technology officer at Fullscript, to take a look at what they’d come up with. After nearly a decade of grinding it out in the startup world, Wise had been planning to kick back, travel and escape from the daily hustle for a while. Instead, he quickly signed on as Kahi’s chief operating officer. “The stars just kind of aligned,” Dooley says with a smile. Today, the company is closing in on 80 customers in Canada and the United States. Kahi is a rare Ottawa tech startup that deals in both hardware and software, designing sensors small enough to fit in the palm of a hand as well as a subscription-based software platform that allows contractors to check the whereabouts of equipment on their laptops and mobile devices. Kahi’s hardware is manufactured by contractors in China and the U.S. Its other partners include local tech enterprise Raven Connected, which provides dash cameras and GPS services to track vehicles as they deliver equipment to disaster-stricken areas. Wise explains that Kahi’s customers shell out anywhere from $2,000 to $80,000 on hardware and spend an average of $650 a month to subscribe to its software. That means the startup is generating tens of thousands in monthly recurring revenue despite low-key marketing efforts that consist mainly of the occasional LinkedIn and Facebook post. “We’re now becoming a recognized brand,” Dooley adds. “People are viewing us as the de facto (market) choice already, which is kind of strange but super cool.” The 12-employee firm has been entirely self-funded so far – but that could soon change. Kahi’s co-founders have been busy polishing up their pitch deck and putting out feelers to a number of venture capital firms and well-heeled investors in Toronto and Ottawa in the hope of raising up to US$3 million by next year. Dooley, whose official title is CEO, has been virtually a one-man marketing department. Now, he says it’s time for Kahi to “get serious” about selling its products. Noting there are 65,000 restoration contracting firms in North America, Dooley pegs the company’s addressable market at nearly half a billion dollars in Canada and the U.S. alone. “There’s no solution that really solved this problem for these folks, so it’s really green pasture,” he explains. While many VCs have been scaling back investments over the course of 2022 amid growing headwinds in the tech sector, Dooley remains confident Kahi’s value proposition will win the day. “I think there’s still a lot of available capital out there for businesses like us that actually have a real business and address a real need,” he explains. “I think we’re in a good spot.” Wise is equally bullish on Kahi’s future. “When you combine that inside experience (of Dooley and Lennox) alongside the bench of technical talent that we’ve been able to assemble, I think that makes for a pretty deadly combination,” he says. And despite a rash of cutbacks at tech firms around the world as they brace for more expected bad economic news, Dooley believes Kahi’s offerings will remain in high demand no matter what the future brings. “We’re playing in an industry that is for the most part recession-proof,” he says. “Disasters happen regardless of what’s going on in the economy, and they need to be fixed.”