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Heidi E. Lehmann: Keeping Workforces Safe from Heat Injury and Death

Heidi E. Lehmann: Keeping Workforces Safe from Heat Injury and Death

Welcome back! Spiffy here, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs working to make this world more equitable. Today I’m super excited to speak with Heidi E. Lehmann, the CEO of Kenzen.

Spiffy: Hey Heidi, how are you doing? My readers are as excited as I am to chat with you and learn about the work that you do. What challenge is Kenzen addressing?

Heidi: I’m well, Spiffy, thanks for having me! At Kenzen, we are keeping workforces safe from heat injury and death from heat on worksites which is a growing problem across the globe impacting billions of workers in industries such as construction, mining, oil and gas, solar and wind power, utilities, manufacturing and transportation.

Spiffy: Wow, I never really thought of that. What motivated you to do it?

Heidi: Kenzen started working in the world of professional sports helping pro athletes avoid heat injury while practicing and playing.  However, where we really found we could do the most good was in protecting ‘industrial athletes’—construction workers, roofers, pavers—those doing really hot work without personal trainers and coaches around to keep them safe from the blazing heat. As the Earth's temperatures skyrocket across the globe, the world is seeing more and more health risks from heat. Heat greatly impacts our essential workers from construction, to renewable energy, to road pavers, and drivers. Kenzen is based in Kansas City (heart of the industrial midwest) and we see the bad effects of heat. in particular, from May through October!

Spiffy: That sounds intense! I’m glad someone’s doing something about it though. Can you elaborate on how you and Kenzen are working towards a more equitable world?

Heidi: Thanks, Spiffy! Climate Justice for workers across the globe is a key mandate for Kenzen. We deploy our solution worldwide from North America, to Japan, to Australia, to the Middle East. Industrial workforces are a key part of building a new clean energy infrastructure across the globe and this often means toiling in extreme heat. Kenzen is also committed 100% to worker privacy. Though we work with physiology data such as core temperature, heart rate, and sweat rate, only the worker is able to see the details of their health information; other safety groups on the worksite only see the information they need to keep the worker safe, but no personal biometric details.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent company milestone or initiative and the impact it makes on your core community.

Heidi: Kenzen recently had our core body temperature algorithm, key to the prediction and prevention of heat injury, peer reviewed (key scientific validation/approval), suggesting we are the only wearable that can accurately prevent heat injury and death from heat on the job. While we've known we have the largest data set of core body temperature across the globe for a while, this "scientific proof" of how accurate our platform is means we can be extremely confident in our ability to warn workers in the field and on the job of impending heat injury.

Spiffy: Congratulations! Pivoting a little to a question I ask all entrepreneurs I speak to - please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from it? 

Heidi: When Kenzen first began, the placement for our wearable device was on the chest, attached to the body with an adhesive. What we failed to think about was all the chest hair many of the men wearing the device would have and the pain it would cause them taking the adhesive on and off each day (our design team was mostly women at the time and unfortunately we didn't consider the male anatomy!). After our first-ever deployment working with wind turbine technicians up in Maine it was clear we were going to need to completely rebuild the product. Fast forward a year later and we have our current placement on the upper arm using a band: no adhesive or chest hair. Lesson learned: Consider carefully the end user of your product!

Spiffy: Ouch, glad that’s now resolved! I have two more questions to ask you starting with what is something you've unexpectedly learned from someone recently?

Heidi: I'd say a recent thing I've learned is when you hear a rattling in the car while driving, pull over immediately and diagnose, don't continue riding or driving even for a moment.  Recently while driving a rental car in Florida I ignored a rattling which slowly but surely got louder and the entire wheel came flying off the car! I could have been badly or hurt others around me. Luckily all ended well but it definitely reinforced the concept of diagnosing something at the first sign of distress (whether a car or something else) to save yourself from a potentially dangerous situation.

Spiffy: Phew, I’m relieved everything turned out okay, but you’re right, early detection is key to preventing worse! Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience before we wrap things up?

Heidi: Many founders these days are engineers and the startup world really values STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) backgrounds, which of course are enormously helpful in particular on the technology/platform building side of a new business.  My background is not STEM, it is art history! Where art history really helps in particular is being able to develop a narrative quickly around most any concept, no matter how abstract, and develop a story for investors, customers, and the broader market.  As I've now spent quite a long time working in start-ups I can confidently say the story of the product and how it will create value and disrupt how things are currently done or create a new market is a key part of the startup equation!

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Heidi—it’s been an honor!

I'm a mobile technology entrepreneur combining a track record in connected devices, mobile platforms, and distributed media. For the past 7 years I've been very focused on the intersection of the industrial internet of things and worker safety. Kenzen is a workforce safety solution at the intersection of climate tech and unparalleled heat science to prevent heat injury and death on worksites, one of the foundational issues of our time. (Nominated by Lorenzo Thione at Gaingels. First published on the Ladderworks website on June 21, 2022.)

© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.