Cork start-up Firemole’s gadget could save millions of lives from fires

16 Oct 2017

Image: Firemole

Our Start-up of the Week is Cork-based Firemole, which has developed a futuristic safety gadget that could save people from fire incidents.

“Firemole is all about fire prevention over fire detection,” explained Firemole founder Seán O’Tuama.

“We aim to catch rising temperatures and alert users to issues before a fire breaks out.”

‘We have a patent filed for the current Firemole and, over the last year, we have built up the patent to include some exciting technology’

O’Tuama explained that there has been a 35pc increase in residential fires over the last year and a 13pc increase in business fires.

“We plan to reduce these figures and, by doing so, potentially saving lives and properties.”

The market

O’Tuama continued: “We are the first to market with this type of safety-tech gadget.

“Firemole gives users peace of mind as many people are concerned about overheating electronic devices.

“Our current version is targeted at families due to its simplicity and the huge amount of electronics in homes these day. No technical knowledge is needed, making it appealing to all ages.

“We are also talking with insurance companies about Firemoles reducing the premiums for users in the same way that fire-detection systems do.”

The founder

Cork start-up Firemole’s gadget could save millions of lives from fires

Firemole founder Seán O’Tuama. Image: Firemole

Before setting up Firemole, O’Tuama worked as an electrician.

“Once things slowed down with the recession and I qualified as an electrician, I became expensive for my boss, so he let me go. I went back to CIT and trained as a chef for 12 months.

“After living in Australia for three years, I returned at the end of 2015. I started an electrical company doing solar photovoltaic systems but then began working on Firemole in July 2016, so I ditched the electrical work and immersed myself in the start-up scene and building my current company. I haven’t looked back since.”

O’Tuama is working full-time on Firemole as its sole employee. “But I have a team ready to come on board once funding is in place.”

The technology

Cork start-up Firemole’s gadget could save millions of lives from fires

The Firemole device affixes itself to plugs and other devices. Image: Firemole

Firemole is a standalone temperature-sensing alarm. It is powered by a replaceable button battery that last 18 months and it does not need any apps or other downloads to work.

“We wanted to keep this version of Firemole simple as we need to prove the market exists. Currently, users just need to pull the battery tab from the back, peel the film from the adhesive base and stick it to the surface that they want to monitor. Firemole is a simple solution to a growing problem.

“Once Firemole detects a temperature over 54C (129F), it sounds an inbuilt alarm, alerting users to the issue. The reason it sounds its alarm at that temperature is that skin tissue can begin to be damaged at temperatures as low as 50C, especially in younger children.

“We have a patent filed for the current Firemole and, over the last year, we have built up the patent to include some exciting technology, but unfortunately I cannot discuss that until the full patent is filed next month.”

O’Tuama said that his goal is to have fire-prevention systems in every home and business around the world.

“Currently, fire-detection systems are not interesting to people and, for the most part, are seen as a pain. We want to disrupt this industry by taking a proactive step against fire, instead of a reactive one and, by doing so, creating a far more valuable product.”

Demand for Firemole is heating up

O’Tuama said that there has been a lot of interest in the company and so far, more than 1,000 units have been sold through the Firemole website.

Firemole has also successfully completed a successful €10,283 crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, which exceeded its target.

“Users have reported no issues yet and say they are really liking Firemole’s simplicity.

“Some of the large distributors have been in touch about carrying Firemole, so our plan is to raise a seed round of €500,000, which will allow us to scale to the level which would be needed when dealing with distributors.”

Entrepreneurial spark

O’Tuama explained that, coming from an electrical background, the last year has been a very steep learning curve.

“Between learning about manufacturing, tooling, fulfilment and the countless other parts, it has been tough, but enjoyable.

“Keeping good cashflow has been the biggest challenge. I’ve gone into a very expensive industry and there are typically numerous zeros involved in every quote.”

“Ireland’s start-up scene is buzzing,” O’Tuama continued. “There are huge opportunities for people online, and many are taking advantage of that.

“There is plenty of help available from either seasoned entrepreneurs, who are typically happy to have a chat, or else from the LEOs and Enterprise Ireland.”

His advice for fellow European start-ups is to stay focused.

“You don’t have to be an expert in an area to make a go at something, as you can hire the help you need. If you think your idea is good enough, you’ll learn what you need along the way.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years