A few years back, three men pounced on Eric Murithi in Uthiru, Nairobi dragged him into a banana plantation and took off with his valuables.
The attack occurred as he returned home. He was too traumatised to raise the alarm and was unable to report the matter to police as the thugs had melted into the evening darkness with his phone.
Few days later, burglars broke into a neighbour’s homes, taking off with his car and ATM cards. He could not scream for help as they threatened to harm him.
It is such incidents that ignited in Mr Murithi, an electric and information engineering graduate from the University of Nairobi, the idea of Upesy in 2016, a company that offers assistance to people in distress.
He teamed up with geospatial engineer Vincent Omondi and computer scientist Kendi Edna to start works on a prototype for the Upesy application.
Armed with Sh2.5 million from personal savings and a sacco loan, the team financed development of the prototype whose commercialisation kicked off in 2019.
“Right now we have more than six thousand active users on the platform, both free users and paying users,” says Mr Murithi.
The technology enterprise connects users to emergency response services such as security, ambulance/medical and road rescue in case a car is stuck, on a single platform “reliably and affordably”.
The app sends an alert to the police, friends/relatives or emergency response companies in case someone is in distress or under attack.
An alert can be triggered in three ways- through pressing an emergency button, clicking on the power button or speaking a code word to the phone.
The company plans to introduce a fourth mode of alert trigger which will use wearables where the heart rate, blood pressure and temperature will be used to determine if someone is in distress.
Once an alert is triggered, a text or automatic phone call is made to people that an individual has added on the app as his contacts, including friends, the police or service provider if one has subscribed to any.
Immediately after, the tracking of real-time GPS location commences as an audio of the happenings is recorded.
“We working with government, private security firms, ambulance, fire companies, non-governmental organisations and building partnerships with the likes of Unicef to come on board this single platform,” says Mr Muriithi, Upesy’s team leader.
Some of the security firms already on board include G4S, Securex, 911 Group, Cotec Security, while negotiations are underway with BM Security.
For medical emergency services, the company has partnered with AAR, St Johns Ambulance and Amref Flying Doctors in its premium package.
Subscription for ambulance services is Sh3000 annually for unlimited number of responses while for security is between Sh1500 and Sh5,000 a month depending on the selected provider.
Upesy gets between 25 percent to 30 percent of the subscription fee, while the rest is shared among the emergency service providers.
Aside from individual subscribers who are mainly people with young families, a number of corporates are paying for their staff full year subscription.
Upesy is already covering the European Union staff with Securex, Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa) with 911 and the South African embassy with 911 Group.
“The revenues are coming in and we are growing at a rate of 10 percent a month,” says Mr Omondi, Upesy’s co-founder and chief technical officer.
The main challenge he says is that individual subscribers are a bit erratic in their payments.
For potential customers without smart phones, the company says it is developing USSD and SMS solutions that they can use to raise alarm in case of an emergency.
Prior to starting Upesy, Mr Muriithi, Mr Omondi and Ms Kendi were in full time jobs and had to outsource a programmer to develop the app.
In time, they quit employment, rented an office and did consultancy for companies to raise funds to finance their project.
After development of the prototype, the Kenya National Innovation Agency (KeNIA) stepped in and linked them up with some training on commercialization in London.