Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a six-part series on entrepreneurs in the current round of the Seed Hatchery boot camp.
Photo: Lance Murphey
Apple Inc.’s China-based supplier Foxconn attracted some major heat recently over health and safety conditions at the plants where it cranks out products like iPhones and iPads.
Here in Memphis, meanwhile, Clifton Wilson has launched a factory safety-focused startup with the belief that there’s a simple way to keep situations like that to a minimum – to keep corners from being cut, workers from getting hurt and productivity and morale from taking a hit.
All that’s required is to unleash the hound. The Safety Hound, that is.
That’s the name of his company and his signature product, which at its core is a compliance tracking tool that automates the process of checking safety protocols and facilitates record-keeping.
Wilson has spent 20 years in the logistics industry – on both sides of the fence. He’s been the guy on the floor, as well as the guy behind the desk. And just like the quiet writer in an office making notes here and there for the Great American Novel, Wilson has always kept a notebook filled with his thoughts about things he’s seen and what he’d do differently if he ever got the chance.
“At many companies, not necessarily by design, but because you’re looking at things against the bottom line and not realizing how other things affect that, productivity becomes the biggest thing,” Wilson said. “Things like quality and safety kind of trickle down. When you have that mentality, your culture is about starting to take shortcuts. You do things quicker, faster. And that gets dangerous.”
Wilson first began forming the concept of the venture he’s now developed when he was working at a 1 million-square-foot warehouse that he says had 28 forklifts and shipped 150 trucks a day on its busiest day.
“We’re not replacing anyone’s safety program. We’re not cutting into anyone’s turf. We’re just putting teeth behind it.”
Owner, Safety Hound
“While I was there, it became obvious that the fast, fast, fast mentality led up to things like safety,” he said. “And one of the things I’ve often described as very crucial to why I care so much – I’ve had many coworkers I’ve had to watch leave in an ambulance.”
His venture has developed a tool called Safety Hound, an automated system that will track down the people in a facility who aren’t current on their safety training.
To help get the venture off the ground, Wilson is participating in the latest round of Seed Hatchery, a boot camp-style entrepreneurship program run out of the EmergeMemphis building Downtown. It’s a 90-day program that culminates in pitches to potential investors on Investor Day next week on Thursday, May 3.
This is the sixth and final article in a series of profiles that have appeared in The Daily News over the past several weeks profiling the CEOs behind the six startups in the latest Seed Hatchery cohort.
Wilson said participation in Seed Hatchery has been invaluable to his efforts, partly through keeping his product and his efforts always moving.
“There’s no more – what am I going to have at the end of 90 days?” he said. “It’s, what am I going to have on Monday?
“I have one mentor that shows up randomly who says, ‘OK, we’re going to work on your pitch.’ Because he knows I’m here Monday through Thursday, and I’m here Saturdays. Within the first week, we also all sat down with someone from Baker Donelson and went over what all this paperwork you’re seeing means.”
Safety Hound is starting in the logistics and manufacturing fields, because that’s the language Wilson speaks.
“We’re not replacing anyone’s safety program. We’re not cutting into anyone’s turf,” he said. “We’re just putting teeth behind it.
“We’re trying to empower managers and employees to actually have the things in place to keep everything on schedule. If you have a company that’s willing to take shortcuts in places like this, where else are they willing to take shortcuts?”