hands free

Health care tech company with Houston ties gets huge opportunity on the West Coast

Sani nudge has developed a hand hygiene tool that prompts medical professionals to clean their hands more often. Courtesy of TMC

Sani nudge, a graduate of the TMCx healthcare accelerator's nineth cohort at Houston's Texas Medical Center, is getting a significant nudge from a new collaboration with a social-impact organization based in California.

Among more than 1,000 startups that were considered, Copenhagen, Denmark-based Sani nudge was chosen as one of nine participants in the Mistletoe Research Fellowship Startup Collaboration Program, sponsored by the Mistletoe Foundation. Three dozen researchers from seven universities also are taking part in the program.

Fresh off a $1.2 million funding round, Sani nudge's technology is an automated monitoring system aimed at helping healthcare workers bolster hygiene compliance and processes through insights from data and a feature that "nudges" healthcare workers to practice proper hand hygiene. Sani nudge created the technology in conjunction with Bispebjerg Hospital and Aarhus University Hospital, both in Denmark.

In the Mistletoe program, representatives of Sani nudge will work alongside four American researchers to improve the startup's technology, thereby providing hospitals with better data and tapping the researchers' expertise in engineering and robotics to come up with related healthcare platforms. Sani nudge employs 13 people in the U.S., Denmark, and Poland.

During tests in healthcare settings, the use of Sani nudge has resulted in a jump in hand hygiene compliance of as much as 200 percent and a reduction in infections of at least 29 percent, the company says. Several hospitals in Scandinavia are using the Sani nudge system.

Theis Jensen, CEO of Sani nudge, and Dr. Marco Bo Hansen, the chief customer officer, became acquainted with Mistletoe when they met Mark Castleman — a partner at the Mistletoe Inc. global-impact investment fund — during a startup and innovation tour of Texas organized by Capital Factory, a startup accelerator with locations in Houston, Austin, and Dallas.

The three men soon found common ground in a shared vision for reducing hospital-acquired infections and combating resistance to antibiotics. Both are costly, potentially fatal problems.

At any given time, 1 in 25 patients in the U.S. are fighting hospital-acquired infections, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says. "These infections lead to the loss of tens of thousands of lives," according to the department, "and cost the U.S. healthcare system billions of dollars each year."

Meanwhile, more than 2 million people in the U.S. are infected each year with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 people die as a result, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Sani nudge's participation in the Mistletoe program kicked off July 31 and August 1 at a workshop in Tokyo. For the next nine months, the Sani nudge group — led by Rebekah Alexander, the startup's in-house data expert — will team up with its four assigned researchers to advance the startup's wireless technology.

The researchers "will work with us over the following academic year to help us take the Sani nudge solution to the next level and enable hospitals to get even more detailed hand hygiene information that can eliminate hospital-acquired infections," Sani nudge wrote on its blog.

In June 2020, the next-level Sani nudge technology is scheduled to be presented to potential investors and academic researchers in Silicon Valley. Sani nudge says Mistletoe effort will strengthen its ties to the U.S. market and the academic research community.

"There are many opportunities within healthcare IoT that can help both patients and hospitals, and our system is designed to embrace these opportunities," Hansen says.

Hansen, a physician, says he'll be vigilantly advocating that his Sani nudge colleagues and the Mistletoe researchers keep hospital patients and staff in mind as Sani nudge moves forward with its innovations.

"We have to make sure that our solutions always generate value to the end users and can easily be used by the clinicians, infection preventionists, and hospital managers," he says.