From living in the backwoods of Scotland, to a near-death experience at sea, to helping hospitals cut down on deadly infections, Niall Wallace has no shortage of stories to share. Founder of Infonaut, a 2015 43North winner, Niall and his team are working to solve the global challenge of deadly hospital acquired infections through a proprietary real-time surveillance, analytics and behavior improvement platform.
Niall spent the first 12 years of his life in what he calls “the most advanced third world country.” The outskirts of Scotland provided a less than glamourous childhood. The family would have their milk delivered once a week and their coal delivered every two weeks. There were no showers: If someone wanted to take a bath, it was heated by fire. Although he had these less than desirable living arrangements, his mother made sure that he was well-educated, and well-spoken. She was a teacher in Scotland – the source of his “BBC Scottish accent.” “We were never allowed to use the typical Scottish slang,” he says.
“the most advanced third world country”
At twelve his family uprooted from Scotland, relocating to Markham, Ontario, just north of Toronto. To summarize the experience as ‘culture shock’ would be an understatement. Markham was the most affluent part of Canada at the time, a significant departure from the life to which Niall was accustomed: “I remember leaving the airport and counting the lanes of the highway; I stopped at twenty. I had never seen a road wider than four lanes.” Upon arrival, Niall was sent to a French immersion school. His “BBC Scottish accent” quickly went away.
The World Wide Web
Niall went on to the University of Guelph to study Political Science. He dropped out a few credits short of graduating, but managed to make a name for himself. While working as a publisher of the school newspaper, The Ontarion, in 1994, he stumbled upon something called the Internet. There were only two or three thousand people on this new platform, yet Niall and his team decided to venture into this new world and to put their newspaper online. With that, the Ontarion became the first digital newspaper in all of Canada. Niall covered the entertainment section, placing emphasis on the local Toronto music scene. He continued to use the new tools made possible by the Internet, offering to create websites for the bands he covered. Many took him up on that offer and gained major attention.
“Entrepreneurship cannot be taught; it’s more of a gut feeling”
Out of Place
Capitalizing on the success he had while building websites for brands, Niall started a business building websites for EMI Canada and numerous artists. Sitting in on record label marketing meetings, something seemed off; he felt out of place. He had no marketing background to speak of. He also went from helping bands that he liked to being part of launches of artists he had no interest in. So he packed his bags – it was time to move on. Niall sold the business to a friend for a single dollar and embarked on his next project. While he chalks up this business venture as a failure, it taught him many valuable lessons. “It taught me that you have to take all the screw ups and failures, learn what you did, and fix it in the future…Entrepreneurship cannot be taught; it’s more of a gut feeling–can you stomach the risks, and ups and downs, and ride it out?”
Niall had a short run with the Canadian Navy, he was in the reserves from 1990 to 1995. One of his greatest adventures came from an assignment to arrest illegal fishermen near Newfoundland. Niall says it was “the closest [he’s] ever come to dying.” He and his team were given what he calls “a patrol boat for the lakes from the 1960s.” On their way, the team ran into a terrible storm that had Niall and the others tied to their bunks to avoid being thrown around. With the boat continually going underwater and popping back out, they had no choice but to ride out the storm to Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild.” When they finally escaped the storm they were able to see that the entire boat had been twisted, leaving them dry-docked for six weeks. Repairs were made for the journey back, but the boat was immediately scrapped upon getting home.
From One Storm to Another
In 2003 while Niall was working at Ministry Health, Toronto saw a severe outbreak of SARS, a viral respiratory illness. A natural entrepreneur, Niall saw an opportunity to help thousands of people. Someone needed to figure out how diseases and infections were spread throughout hospitals, and from that need came Infonaut. At the time of the outbreak and during the years that followed, Niall and the lead team at Ministry Health, gathered a massive amount of information to generate reports. The main problem was getting people to actually read the reports. Niall began to make maps based off of good and bad infection control rates that started to pique interest. This marked their move towards studying hospital and patient behavior to determine how infections were spreading and how they could be controlled.
Niall and his team moved to Buffalo in 2014, and immediately fell in love with the city “[It’s] Definitely a city on the rise,” he says, “I mean, they keep saying that, but it’s actually true.” He was surprised to find that there are so many pockets of global leadership here in Buffalo, especially on the healthcare side. He remains impressed with our love for our Buffalo Bills. Being a winner of 43North allowed Niall to reap its benefits: “43North exposes you to leaders in the community and really important people.”
While Niall didn’t get to finish college the first time around, he now looks forward to something he says his mother is even more proud of. With the help of 43North, Niall will be attending a week-long executive training class at Harvard’s School of Business. The five-day course will expose Niall to CEOs and leaders in healthcare from all over the world and he “…can’t wait to see what it’s like and who [he] will get to interact with.”
Moving forward Niall and Infonaut hope to get their technology into more hospitals and further assist in infection control. HAI’s, or Healthcare-associated infections, are a wide spread problem. With Infonaut’s help, hospitals can reduce and control these infections to further assist their patients.
Learn more about Infonaut here:
43North Profile: http://www.43north.org/winners/infonaut/