It took Barbara Timm-Brock one near-death experience and three career changes to bring her to the stage at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin to launch eTrack Tech.
Timm-Brock wants to make sure that equipment functions properly so that employees are safer and industrial companies can save money on one of their biggest expenses — the equipment they use.
The device that eTrack Tech sells looks like a router with an array of multifunctional sensors. That streams data to a hub device on a facility’s property that will collect the data and analyze it.
All of that data (which measures power, hydraulics, and fluids) is transmitted over a cellular network to the hub.
So far, the technology works with generators (which Timm-Brock likens to a diesel truck with no wheels), HVAC systems, and forklifts, which look a lot like other industrial equipment including backhoes and excavators.
eTrack Tech charges $300 per year per device and monitoring costs.
For industrial companies the monitoring equipment can both save lives and money. According to Timm-Brock companies spend roughly $144 billion per year on industrial equipment maintenance, almost the same they spend on vehicle and equipment purchasing ($156 billion).
“We have created this business of making fleet management more efficient,” says Timm-Brock. “While we have a lot of prospective exits for this, I really just want to make stuff work better.”
The path that led Timm-Brock — a good Minnesotan — to our Berlin stage, began in her father’s workshop, where, from an early age, she helped him with his hobby as a gunsmith. Professionally the head of the prototype lab at Unisys, Arthur Tim was a master craftsman and an amateur gunsmith who had Barbara work in his shop.
“I remember reloading shotgun shells. He had me working with gun stocks and I worked with gunpowder,” Timm-Brock told me.
That early experience with dangerous chemicals instilled a respect for process and safety that ran through Timm-Brock’s education as a chemical engineer and through her first job at Pilsbury as a process engineer.
It was while working at Pilsbury that Timm-Brock had the experience that would underscore her respect for safety and would plant the seed for eTrack Tech’s products and services. While renovating a new house with her husband in a Minnesota winter Timm-Brock was caught in an upstairs room that had filled with carbon monoxide — a result of a series of mishaps caused by faulty repairs to the house’s heating and cooling systems and chimney.
Timm-Brock was hospitalized, comatose, and would have died if she hadn’t been discovered by her family.
“After I almost died, I decided life was too short to put up with BS,” she says. “I wrote a mission statement to myself that I am here on this earth to help people and businesses grow and thrive.”
She left Pilsbury a few years later and took on a series of jobs in the food services industry including leadership stints at Pizza Hut, Olive Garden, Cinnabon, and Church’s Chicken. Those jobs culminated in a career at Aramark which was half food services and half facilities management and engineering.
Aramark was where Timm-Brock was exposed to the dangers of large industrial vehicles — which can cause at least 100 deaths a year due to faulty maintenance and accidents.
Food services was Timm-Brock’s first career, but the experiences in facilities management brought her the attention of head hunters in education who recruited her to her second — working at the Stratford School (a high-end science, technology, engineering and math focused group of schools in the San Francisco and Los Angeles area).
“I’m brought in to scale something and fix it,” says Timm-Brock. “And I was working at Stratford and saw that maintenance is a nightmare. I sent a guy to do an audit and we pulled out work orders that were two years old.”
The problem, as Timm-Brock saw it (and sees it), is that small and medium-sized businesses don’t have the same capacity to spend money on monitoring and managing their equipment — sometimes vital equipment.
For instance, the schools depended on their HVAC systems and are legally required to maintain certain temperatures in classrooms (in certain states). At Stratford, their HVAC systems were never working, always breaking down, and supplementary systems had to be used to ensure classroom temps.
After the Stratford School was acquired and Timm-Brock had a chance to review her options, she decided to venture out on career number three in 2015 — starting her own company.
Since that time, she has been working with several advisers to develop a technology that can be installed cheaply and simply on any vehicle or piece of industrial equipment with an array of proprietary sensors and a way to communicate information from that equipment to a centralized hub.
Initially, because she had been most closely exposed to problems with HVAC, Timm-Brock started the business working on those heating and cooling systems that bedeviled the Stratford School. But after a test-case at a facility services shop in Arizona, Timm-Brock was asked whether she could expand the monitoring to other industrial systems — like forklifts.
After surveying 42,000 work order requests for forklift maintenance Timm-Brock and a team of co-workers developed a taxonomy for what their sensors should monitor and began deploying their monitoring service on industrial vehicles — and it worked.
“From forklifts, we now do generators and are looking at other construction equipment that could use the forklift unit,” Timm-Brock tells me.