Illustration by Grace Wang
Over the past five years, InfernoGuard, a student-led company dedicated to preventing wildfires, has seen success in STEM and business competitions.
The company’s four founders — who currently attend Northwestern, Johns Hopkins University, Lehigh University and Wake Forest University — designed InfernoGuard in 2016 after witnessing wildfires near their hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. The team aims to mitigate the risks of wildfires through a network of communicative devices attached to trees, which continuously collect data and alert InfernoGuard customers if there is a wildfire risk.
“We’re all passionate about stopping wildfires and preserving the environment in any way we can,” said Weinberg sophomore Ben Gardner, who leads sales and marketing for the company.
InfernoGuard is cold-calling Pacific Northwest timber companies, focusing on those in the rural regions of Washington and Oregon, to discuss partnerships and sales. The startup has received numerous responses from these companies, especially following recent forest fires in those areas, Gardner said.
The O’Neill Pine Company, a Washington-based timber company, recently bought InfernoGuard’s risk assessment services. McCormick sophomore and CEO Kevin Kaspar said he considers this first sale a “huge milestone.”
InfernoGuard’s cold-calling strategy has also been useful in securing partners, Gardner said. Kaspar added the company is looking forward to future testing at Yosemite National Park and the Jenner Headlands Preserve.
The team is also working on setting up additional testing opportunities with the Department of Agriculture. According to Kaspar, testing will include putting its device in controlled fires.
In addition to testing, InfernoGuard is developing a mobile app and website tracking interface. McCormick senior Kane Feldman, who leads the company’s product design, said the goal is to create a reliable, long-lasting device that is protected against factors like weather, animals and humans.
Kaspar and Feldman said having the team spread across universities has created some challenges, but they have still found ways to communicate.
“With the past couple of years, we’re at a unique position where we are able to do it online,” Feldman said. “Zoom three years ago didn’t exist. We’re leveraging all the things that have been negative over these past couple of years, and it’s really helped out a ton.”
Kaspar said some of the benefits to having access to multiple universities include the resources, expertise and funding. NU has provided about $14,000 in funding and Johns Hopkins has provided about $20,000, according to Kaspar.
Programs like The Garage have also been helpful in developing InfernoGuard. Kaspar said the Garage’s mentorship program is a “hidden gem.” The Garage paired InfernoGuard with Brad Falkof, a retired liability lawyer, who Kaspar said has been a driving force in the company’s development since early 2021.
InfernoGuard’s team said it was difficult to balance spending many hours per week on the company while also attending classes. However, Kaspar said he was able to lean on the resources and his friends at The Garage to help balance the workload.
Ultimately, Kaspar said the team is excited about recent progress and future opportunities.
“It’s been kind of a long time coming in the development process,” Kaspar said. “We’re finally at the stage now where we’ve scaled our team, we have the right expertise, we have the right mentorship, we have a lot of traction under our belt as well. It’s good timing to finalize the product where it needs to be and do deployment over the summer.”
Email: [email protected]
— Ceramics inspire creativity and businesses for NU students
— Virtual matchmaking event at The Garage connects students to Northwestern-based startups
— The Garage identifies personality traits of highly successful entrepreneurs in new study