Christopher Adams

The Business Herald’s markets and banking reporter.

Safety light system attracts big clients

Sigrid McLisky and Mario Vulinovich, co-founders of Lightknight, which helps users stand out more at night than they would wearing conventional safety gear. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Sigrid McLisky and Mario Vulinovich, co-founders of Lightknight, which helps users stand out more at night than they would wearing conventional safety gear. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Auckland start-up Lightknight has just begun selling its worker illumination system but the firm already has an impressive list of customers and is focused on taking the New Zealand-developed technology worldwide.

The St Johns-based company has created a lightweight, waterproof lighting system that can be retrofitted to existing high-visibility vests, which it says makes users stand out more at night than they would wearing conventional safety gear.

Managing director Mario Vulinovich said the potentially life-saving electro-luminescent technology solved the problem of conventional vests being ineffective after dark.

In addition, the Lightknight system could be transferred to new vests as older ones wore out, he said.

The company was founded after Vulinovich's business partner, Sigrid McLisky, attended a meeting held by industry safety body Site Safe during which the need for an effective illumination system was discussed.

Funding, including from Auckland's Ice Angels investment group and the Government-backed New Zealand Venture Investment Fund, was secured in 2011.

The Lightknight system, which is manufactured in China, was launched late last year and its local customers already include construction firms Fulton Hogan and Fletcher Building, as well as the Auckland Motorway Alliance, which is responsible for the upkeep of the city's motorways.

Across the Tasman the Victoria Mounted Police are testing the technology, with the illuminated strips going on the horses' backsides as well as riders.

Australian construction firm John Holland, and Leighton Contractors - which provides services to a range of industries including mining, infrastructure and telecommunications - have also ordered units.

But Lightknight has ambitions to expand well beyond Australasia.

"We want to be the No 1 company in the world providing illuminated safety systems," Vulinovich said.

He said Ports of America, which operates 42 ports in the United States, and global miner Rio Tinto had ordered trial units.

Lightknight had appointed a US distributor and had made contact with another potential distributor in Canada, Vulinovich said.

The Lightknight system costs $195 a unit, plus $10 for each retrofitting.

The company has no plans to manufacture vests, but Vulinovich said he hoped vest manufacturers would one day make products that were "Lightknight-ready".

He said the Ice Angels investment had allowed the firm to establish a solid board of directors.

Lightknight's chairman is Ron Halls, a New Zealander who was the chief executive of international footwear retailer Foot Locker from 2006 to 2011.

Also on the board is Nigel McLisky, Sigrid's father, who co-founded Innovair, the developer of the RoboCan pest control product that was sold to household goods giant SC Johnson in 2008.

Vulinovich said there was potential to supply to consumers, including cyclists. He added that Lightknight was likely to break even by the end of this year.

- NZ Herald

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