Keeping it clean

It’s in your hands, next to your face, tossed in a tote, or perched the corner of a restaurant table. It’s your mobile phone, and because it is a ubiquitous part of your daily life, it’s probably the germiest thing you touch all day. Eww.

Need proof? Scientists at the the University of Arizona concluded that the average mobile phone is 10 times dirtier than most toilet seats.

Since most Americans touch their phones an average of 47 times a day, your hands are prime spreaders of a wealth of invisible ickiness. The most prevalent pathogens are Streptoccus, MRSA, and E.coli, and while their potential presence on your device doesn’t automatically make you sick, you still don’t want these pathogens to enter your system.

Sure, you wipe your devices off from time to time, but do they ever really get clean?

A group of college students at Queens University in Canada didn’t think so.

“Our phones are quite dirty,” said Taylor Mann, one of the co-founders of CleanSlate UV, a company that developed a sure-fire way to sanitize our mobile devices. Mann admits that he’s a germophobe and his friends, Graeme Clark and Scott Mason, were, too. Mann said he had a “light bulb moment” after a conversation with another friend who is a nurse in a neonatal intensive care unit in a hospital. She said she often had to tell the parents of her young and vulnerable patients to put their phones away. Mann, Clark, Mason, and a fourth partner (who later left the business) got to work and formed CleanSlate UV.

Their premise is elegant in its simplicity: Water damages electronics, disposable wipes create waste, so CleanSlate UV uses the power of ultraviolet light to kill all this bacteria without damaging touch screens and the delicate electronics inside. Mann said that the fundamental principle of the equipment was designed to be simple so it can be used readily by anyone.

Most installations now are in hospitals and may be used by staff and visitors. “This allows facilities to put our product in the entrance where staff and visitors can wash their hands and sanitize their phones at the same time at the most public-facing moment,” he said.

This began in 2014, when they were recent university graduates. None of them had a medical background. They had plenty of business savvy, so they reached out to a business accelerator in their native Canada for some initial support and guidance. This led them to Blueprint Heath, a healthcare-specific accelerator program in New York City, with an intense 12-week program. Their time in New York helped them connect with infectious disease control specialists and other medical professionals. And that’s when the founders connected with 43North, which helped transform and grow the company.

Mann said the team participated in the 2015 competition and joined the 2016 cohort. Moving to Buffalo then, he said, made perfect sense. “We were already in discussion with Kaleida Health and the Jacobs Institute.”

“Buffalo is the ideal location for our work,” Mann said. “We knew the biggest growth area would be the United States. Being in Buffalo allows us to work with businesses in the United States and Canada.”

There’s another reason why the Queen City is appealing for CleanSlate UV: The density of medical and research facilities here puts this young company in the presence of established professionals and other startups. This access to knowledge and opportunity is very important to Mann and his partners.

They recently started working with Start-Up NY to attract even more opportunities for networking and development. It also led them to the company’s Main Street location, in a medical building anchored by the Olmsted Center for Sight.

Mann, his partners, and the eight-member staff have already worked on a number of projects with faculty at the University at Buffalo that helped the company develop more modeling protocols to help advance their product’s technology. Mann said these efforts will help the enterprise stay ahead of the competitive curve as he and his partners continue to develop new products.

He credits the 43North competition for encouraging and supporting entrepreneurs, and nudging them to interact with one another. “We hope the network keeps growing,” he said. “Getting feedback from investors requires you to pay it forward. The enthusiastic feedback is invaluable and encourages you to do better.”

While current deployments are in healthcare facilities (40 healthcare systems in North America to date), Mann said he and his team aspire to expand beyond that sector while staying true to the company’s mission to use proven technologies to remove bacteria from mobile devices.

“The category itself is growing quickly,” he said. “Our goal is to be the leader in the healthcare sector and grow to be the undisputed market leader across multiple industries.”

Read more articles by Cherie Messore.

Cherie Messore is a native Buffalonian and has longtime experience in the region's vibrant not-for-profit sector with special interests in the cultural community and education. She is also a freelance writer, public relations practitioner, and volunteer docent at Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House.
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