Buffalo startup tackles health issue: keeping cellphones germ-free

Henry Davis | The Buffalo News

The cellphones we handle countless times a day to make calls, check social media and surf the Internet are also good at something else: carrying germs.

That’s turned into a potential problem in hospitals and other health-care settings where doctors, nurses, other staff and the public come into contact with patients at risk of infection from bacteria and viruses brought in from the outside.

But how do you disinfect a cellphone quickly and easily, without harming the phone?

One of the winners of the 43North business competition in Buffalo, CleanSlateUV, thinks it has an answer. It has a device that uses ultraviolet light to kill germs, and it just completed a trial at Kenmore Mercy Hospital to learn where and when it might best be used to augment other infection control measures that hospitals typically use.

The CleanSlate device, which is about the size of a toaster oven, was placed outside the operating rooms and intensive care unit. A mobile phone or other small portable electronic device – such as thermometers and glucometers – is placed inside, and after about 30 seconds of UV light, the devices are practically germ-free, according to the company.

“It seemed like a good fit,” said James Millard, hospital president and chief executive officer, following the two-month trial.

He said the hospital is now considering locating a UV cleaning device in a public area of the hospital.

The 43North business plan competition awards $5 million in prizes annually to promising startups. It was launched in 2014 as a small part Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic-development initiative, financed largely through the New York Power Authority. Winning companies receive funding, mentor support and free rent. In exchange, they must move to Buffalo for a year and give 43North a a 5 percent ownership stake in the company.

In 2015, CleanSlate beat out nearly 11,000 applicants to win one of six $500,000 second-place prizes in the local competition. The Toronto company recently told The News it has set up in the 43North business incubator on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and plans to create 26 net new jobs.

Scott Mason, chief of business development, said such trials help the company learn where to locate the sanitizers and when they are mostly used, as well as guide design changes. In this case, for instance, the device outside the surgical units got significant use and, overall, use peaked in the morning before work shifts and at the end of the day.

CleanSlate is in seven sites – four as trials and three for paying customers – that include hospitals, food processors and corporate campuses, Mason said. The Kenmore Mercy trial, which lasted two months, was the first in the Buffalo-Niagara region.

The device costs $8,000 retail, but Mason said the company is offering research discounts to companies that help it gather data.

UV light is a type of radiation that comes from the sun but is invisible. It destroys germs by damaging their DNA.

Hospitals, food processors and other industries where infection is a problem have been exploring the use of UV light in recent years to kill dangerous bacteria and viruses. The CleanSlate device arrives in the wake of studies showing that electronic devices with touch surfaces, including mobile phones and tablets, can harbor germs that may pose a threat to patients and customers.

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