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Khusela wins Seedstars Cape Town with this savvy fire-detection device

In the past few weeks, the global Seedstars World competition has been making its rounds across Africa in an effort to find the most impressive startups from emerging markets to compete with each other in Geneva, Switzerland. The regional trip recently rounded off in Cape Town, with Khusela being awarded first prize for having developed a low-cost, innovative fire-detection device.

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Mainly designed with condensed housing such as shanty towns in mind, Khusela has created a proactive early-warning system. Khusela means “protect” in Xhosa and revolves around the idea that traditional smoke detectors are too expensive and don’t meet the specific demands of shacks.

Born out of the University of Cape Town, the startup argues that smoke detection is ill-suited for the shack environment given the heating, lighting and cooking methods that take place in homes. So instead, it uses innovative heat detection technology to warn people of fire before it grows to out of hand or spreads to neighbouring homes.

This is where it gets really interesting: devices within a 100 metre range of each other are also connected, meaning that in case of a fire, the devices will create a community-wide response. Earlier this year, the company also won the Global Social Venture Competition’s (GSVC) People’s Choice Award.

An extract submitted to the GSVC provides some more context:

“There are 1-billion shack/slum-dwellers across the globe that is set to soar to 1.4-billion by 2020. This rate of urbanization will exacerbate the difficult conditions in areas where fire risk is a daily anxiety that has a direct impact on financial security, safety, and well-being. The impact of shack fires has an adverse effect on economies and are, as such, a development challenge that needs to be addressed.”

An apt sky blue colour, the device is expected to cost around R85 (about US$8) and has a three-year battery life.

Many other startups who pitched at the Seedstars Cape Town event showed promise however. The runners-up were Peach Payments coming in second place, and Hoja being awarded third place.

Peach Payments is a mobile and web payment solution specifically targeting emerging markets. Born out of the tech-focused social empowerment initiative RLabs, Hoja is a tool that lets you deploy apps on multiple platforms — like Android, Mxit, HTML — which allows developers to reach wider, and more diverse, audiences.

Some other worthy mentions include ecommerce platform ShopStar, on-demand courier startup WumDrop, and safari booking service Big5 Boutique.

Seedstars World believes that there’s a massive amount of untapped opportunities to be discovered in these emerging markets. As Seedstars World Co-Founder Alisee de Tonnac previously stated, “Silicon Valley is not the only place in the world where talented entrepreneurs hide.”

He further noted, “Many of the projects we’ve seen are fantastic, they have a viable business model that not only works in their local market but also may serve as a global product. Those, we believe, are the leading companies of tomorrow.”

Khusela will now stand a chance of winning US$500 000 and gaining exposure to European investors in Geneva, Switzerland where it will be pitted up against other finalists from across the globe.

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