– This story originally appeared in Challenge Cup news at the 1776 site –
Hospitals don’t want to make patients and staff more sick or sick for the first time. The concept is easy to grasp — yet incredibly hard to do. Taylor Mann, cofounder of Limestone Labs, says the products that hospitals use now to clean their medical instruments and mobile devices don’t achieve the level of sanitization demanded. So, he and his startup team created an alternative, The Clean Slate.
Limestone Labs won the health category of the Toronto Challenge Cup and will go on to compete in the Challenge Festival in May. Mann, who pitched in both rounds of the Cup, and his cofounder Oleg Baranov, spoke after their victory about how their solution came to be, how the device functions and the inspiration they gleaned from the Challenge Cup.
We all know that hospitals have to be sanitary. But what’s the specific need for your product?
MANN: A lot of people are talking about the really big potential of mobile technology, using smartphones and tablets in healthcare. But no one’s really addressed the fact that hospitals don’t have a way to clean them right now. What that means is that when doctors are interacting or nurses are interacting with tablets or smartphones on an increasing basis there’s actually a large potential for the transmission of infectious disease via those devices. Not only that. They also don’t really have an effective way to clean their existing devices. So our product solves an existing need but it also solves a pressing need, which is the sanitization of smartphones and tablets.
BARANOV: As Taylor said, we started very carefully addressing what the actual problem is. We spent a long time consulting with healthcare professionals, physicians, doctors, nurses. The Clean Slate is the size, approximately, of a toaster oven. It is designed specifically to fit within the hospital workflow cycle so it has a 40-second cycle time. It achieves consistent hospital grade disinfection because it’s an automated process and it cannot act as a point of contagious disease for others because the only point of contact that the user touches is sanitized. But it very easily fits in anywhere from a nurse’s desk to a staff room to the entrances and exits.
What about you guys — what are your backgrounds that led you to this idea?
MANN: We actually all met before we had an idea that we settled on because we were part of an incubator at Queen’s University this summer called the Queen’s Summer Innovation Program. Essentially the basis of our team was that we all wanted to do something that was socially impactful. We didn’t want to create an Angry Bird app or something like that. And that’s very much in fitting with this challenge. But we also wanted to create a physical product.
From there, we went and brainstormed 150 ideas. We settled on this one and initially it as a general cell phone cleaner for hospitals, schools, airports, all that kind of stuff. But healthcare was where we really found a desperate need for this and where we thought we could make an impact.
You mentioned pilots as a means to get the product ready to use. Can you elaborate on what you went through and what comes next to get traction?
BARANOV: Our company has only been founded for about five months, but during that time we’ve been able to, for lack of a better word, hustle our way into various opportunities. We’ve set up pilots with four major hospitals in Ontario. There’s Toronto General Hospital and Kingston General. We’ve completed our product design cycle and partnered with an engineering company here in Toronto, and we’ve gone through a complete mechanical safety compliance and electrical certifications to actually deploy our product in hospitals.
We participated in the QSI accelerator and were very happy to take third place. In addition we’re very happy to have gone through our first round of seed financing which will last us for the next six months and bring us through the pilots and hopefully to our second venture capital round.
What did you get out of being involved with the Challenge Cup?
MANN: I think this was particularly interesting because we’ve done a number of pitches, but either they’ve been in our smaller incubator with six or seven other companies or we’ve been alone in a room with angel investors or venture capitalists, many of whom have chosen to invest, so obviously it’s gone okay. But, for us, the really compelling thing is, first of all, it’s really inspiring. Going back to the ethos of the Challenge Cup, it’s a lot of companies who are trying to do very difficult things but doing it in a really innovative way. So I found it really cool to see people from different sectors. Everyone pitched differently and focused on different things. So you could see themes of traction within certain industries. But it was just really interesting to see the challenges that will face all of the companies whether they won or not. Everyone faces similar challenges in terms of making these connections.
You’re on the road a lot with your pilot projects, but what has it been like to work in and around Toronto? What do you think are the unique assets and challenges for health entrepreneurs in Toronto?
MANN: The line that we have used is that Ontario hospitals tend to be more conservative than the Pope. That’s one of the challenges in being in a government-run system. That being said, they also have more patient-focused metrics in a lot of scenarios, which gives us a good balance. They have a lot of procurement people who care about cost savings but they also put a big weighting on customer experience. One of the ethos of a hospital we’re partnering with in Kingston is, “No decision about you without you.” That’s basically an idea that the CEO brought in that says every decision made in the hospital has to have a patient in mind. That’s something that’s really helped us because [our product is] something that patients will be affected by very much, especially as these devices become more prevalent.