Listen to the Podcast
CleanSlate UV of Buffalo, New York makes a hospital-grade disinfection system that uses ultraviolet (UV) light to sanitize mobile devices by inactivating pathogens at the cellular level. The University of Buffalo helped advance the company’s technology under a 2017 FuzeHub Manufacturing Grant and recently joined CleanSlate UV in an episode of New York State Manufacturing Now. Find out how their partnership worked, how CleanSlate UV is continuing to grow, and how UB helps other innovative companies.
Steve: Hey, welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now, the podcast that’s powered by FuzeHub. I’m your host, Steve Milito, and today, we are here with Clean Slate UV. We have Claire Dobbin, who is the product manager, Manju Anand, Chief Technology Officer and Inam Reddy, who is the student at UV that was part of the project. Welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now, everyone.
Claire: Thank you.
Speaker 3: Thank you, Steve.
Steve: Yeah. Great. So we’re going to start with Claire. And Claire, I’m going to ask you a few questions. For starters, tell us about Clean Slate UV. What do you do and what do you do better than anyone else?
Claire: For sure. Thanks, Steve. So Clean Slate UV is a bio safety company focused on creating the next generation of hospital grade sanitization solutions. So that’s really a mouthful. In layman’s terms, what do we do? And we’re solving a problem. And the problem started as this, our cell phones being the third phone that we never wash. We bring cell phones with us wherever we go, and no one’s really thinking about the bacteria that lies on that. The average cell phone actually has 10 times more bacteria than a public toilet. And one in four hospital devices have pathogenic bacteria in an environment where there’s sick and immunocompromised people who can get very ill and possibly die from this bacteria spreading. So since we focus on this problem, we started out of Queens University in Kingston, Canada, and then we expanded our operations as well into Buffalo and New York State and the idea here was to protect babies in the neo- natal intensive care units in hospitals. So parents would be unable to bring their phones in or they’d have to bring them in, in plastic bags. And it was a very sad time for parents not being able to share the birth of their new children, and they would often bend the rules. And then it’s a opportunity for spreading pathogens to very immunocompromised babies. So once we focused on neo- natal ICUs, we talked to nurses and physicians and we got feedback that wipes were not effective. They are filled with chemicals, people can be exposed to wipes, they can damage skin, and it would damage devices. It would damage the personal phones of these staff members and the parents. So they needed a faster, more simple and effective way to sanitize it, which is where we came up with the idea of UV light. So we expanded first into NICUs, but then into other areas within healthcare. And since the pandemic, we’ve actually been applicable to many other industries like manufacturing, transportation, hospitality, retail, and more. We now call ourselves a tech leader in the UV space, and we’re creating more and more products to be the next generation of intelligent solutions in this space. And then when you say, what do we do better than anyone else? I would say it comes down to efficacy. So our current product and all of our future products have been scientifically backed. We’ve done thorough analysis, we’ve done all of the relevant scientific testing standards, we’ve done lifecycle testing, and we’ve done real life case studies and use cases. And with the pandemic and all of the uprise of UV products, I think that that’s what sets us apart and makes us the market leader in making sure that we’re creating these scientific backed effective solutions.
Steve: This is really great stuff, and it’s important for people who are listening to know that you started doing this before the pandemic. And I can remember talking about things like hospital acquired infections and how being sick and going to the hospital could expose you to some other really nasty stuff. And you were ahead of your time, and certainly COVID has made people aware of a lot of things, and I appreciate what you said about wipes not being as effective as we all might think. So you mentioned a little bit about applications, Claire. Can you tell us some more about them? And then what is your ideal customer? Who do you sell to?
Claire: For sure. So our product was designed and UV light, the limitations of UV light are on hard non- porous materials. So our product was designed and there’s a large tray to accommodate a variety of those different devices. So the application could be sanitizing cell phones, but it goes far beyond that. It could be tablets, badges, pens, water bottles, anything really that’s a high- touch handheld item that can fit within our large scale tray can be sanitized within 20 seconds. So basically, you close the lid, put your devices in, the cycle will automatically start and they’ll be bathed in UV light for 20 seconds. During this time, you sanitize your hands and then when the cycle completes, you can walk away with peace of mind knowing that you’ve prevented the spread of pathogens through both your hands and your handheld items. So the simplicity of this makes our applications endless. As I said earlier, we started with NICUs, we started at Neo- Natal Intensive Care Units, and we then expanded to intensive care units or ORs or surgical units. And then we’re really everywhere in hospitals now. We can be within waiting rooms. We’re in the cafeteria for staff, patients, and visitors. And again, another thing we’ve really expanded on since the pandemic is beyond healthcare. So we’ve recently deployed at some major transportation hubs, subway stations, entrances of major shopping malls. We’re also in areas like manufacturing facilities or bio- med labs between going through areas and needing to sanitize all your equipment. So I would say that our ideal customer is anyone who understands the risk of carrying these pathogens on their devices. We’re most suited for healthcare, but since the rise of superbugs and what we’ve seen with this coronavirus passing, we’re really applicable anywhere.
Steve: So what are some successes that Clean Slate UV has had?
Claire: We’ve had some great successes over the years, so as you mentioned earlier, we’ve been around for almost seven years now. And I think in the early days it really came down to us being a new technology in a new industry that not a lot of people knew about. And I think some of our successes was leveraging and relying on great resources and funding resources to help us succeed just like this project that we had. So it then helped us, in this case, improve the efficacy of our product and it helped us make significant advancements in this innovation in the UV space. So being able to have these funding opportunities helped us make our product have a lower cycle time, which helped us integrate better into healthcare institutions. And then once we got the buy- in from these institutions, we were able to create a great story for our series A investment and we actually secured that just early 2020, right before the pandemic hit, which really helped in the last year propel us to success. So in the last year particularly, we’ve grown our team from five people to 50. We’ve seen our sales increase by 800% year over year. We’ve ramped up our production 20 times. So we’ve opened three new, we have three manufacturing facilities now. We are able to actually bring our manufacturing into North America. We have operations in both Canada and the US and we’re now present in over 16 countries. We have over 2000 installations of our product, and most importantly, we’ve sanitized over 110 million devices. So we’ve helped keep people safe and we’ve helped solve the spread of pathogens on these devices. And lastly, one more thing, sorry. I would say a big success is our team. So through scaling, we’ve managed to keep the same culture that we’ve had at Clean Slate from the start, which is a team of hardworking people that are supportive of one another and team players. And I think that’s the biggest component of our success.
Steve: All right, great. And I just wanted to go back and circle back to the project that you mentioned, and this was one that we’re going to talk about in more detail later, but it was under a few sub manufacturing grant with the University of Buffalo a couple of years ago. So, Claire, there’s always challenges to overcome and when we stretch to get through them, that’s when a company really grows. What are some challenges that Clean Slate UV has faced?
Claire: Yeah, for sure. So with the successes, that’s almost like the tip of the iceberg that’s covered with tons of challenges and issues that we’ve seen in the last few years. But I think it started again, when we go back to the beginning. In the marketplace, it was a fairly new industry, so there was no clear winner in the marketplace. We were by no means a market leader. We were trying to figure out the way to get there. So being able to secure funding and capital investment was a huge challenge for us. That’s why, again, we’re so grateful for this partnership and the funding that we were able to secure and the innovation steps we were able to make. But I think a big challenge for us has always been having to secure that funding. We’re a hardware company, so developing hardware and doing the research and development requires capital investment. I would say another challenge we faced is that the UV space is kind of, especially in its inception in surface disinfection, kind of like the wild wild west. There wasn’t a lot of regulations, it’s come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go and having to sell to customers and then also educate them on what UV light is, how it works, what the dangers associated with it are has been a big challenge for us as well. And then thirdly, I’d say with the growth that I talked about in the scaling that we talked about, there’s also a lot of issues that come with came with that. So expanding our manufacturing and ramping up from by 20 x was a huge challenge for us. We also had a lot of supply chain issues, because during the pandemic we shared similar components to air ventilators. So while there was this huge growing need for our product, there were also much more important products on the market that we didn’t want to take away from. We wanted to support, but still wanted to deliver for our customers. So yeah, I would say that those are the three biggest things is securing funding, trying to find our way through the lack of regulations. And then, of course, the pains that come with scaling up.
Steve: All big challenges. And congratulations for working through them. They’re tough ones. So let’s talk about the funding piece a little bit more, Claire. We’re going to go over to Manju Anand, who is the Chief Technology Officer. And then as part of this segment, we’ll also talk to Inam Reddy, who is a UV student that worked on the project. So Manju, let’s start with you. The project in 2017, the University of Buffalo, where UV received a manufacturing grant to partner with Clean Slate UV and advance your technology. How did this project help you and what was it like to work with UV?
Speaker 3: Thanks Steve. To begin, I want to give my huge appreciation and thanks to both UV as well as to help us with the funding back in 2017. And the goal for this project was to make two technological advancement. One is on the material coating and another is the light source. So let’s begin with the first one, material coating. Like Claire mentioned in the earlier question, UV application on the surface is fairly new, which means the technological advancements in this application is fairly new and still catching up and being one of the primary goal for the company to emerge. As a technology leader, we also wanted to push the boundaries for innovation. Thanks to the experienced staff at UV as well as an excellent contribution, we were able to find a unique combination of coating, which is fairly inexpensive to produce, that boosted the UV output by almost 40%. So just by adding a layer of coating, we were able to increase the effectiveness of the product by 40%. What it mean for us is that we took that as an opportunity to decrease the cycle time from 30 seconds to 20 seconds. And this was a huge win for clean slate and also for our customers. Now 10 seconds is really big win. In the past we have cleaned our disinfected more than 110 million devices. Now 10 seconds of 110 million actions will pretty much equate to 10 million in labor costs being saved. That’s a massive event. Second, we were the only company back in 2019 to have 22nd cycle time launched in the product, in the market. Until date, there is no competitor in the space that has matched our performance at 20 seconds. So this wouldn’t have been possible without the massive contribution both from as well as the expertise from UV. The second advancement is the light source. The current technology in the UV space uses mercury labs, and we all know that mercury is dangerous for human being when it’s mishandled. And our goal is to keep pushing the boundaries on innovation to find different sources that will allow us to move away from mercury. And with the help of and the professor at Buffalo, with some collaboration with innovation centers, we were able to identify an LED source that can actually replace the material lamps. And we spent a good part of our time with as well as the UV staff to figure out how to use this technology efficiently and effectively. And with the work that has been done with UV as part of this collaboration, I’m actually proud to say that we as a company have gained significant knowledge in this new technology. And as we speak, our companies now working on two new products using this technology. And in terms of impact, we will be able to offer a mercury- free technology for our customers sometime mid next year.
Steve: Impressive. So you also go by Inam Reddy, a man with multiple names. I’d like to ask you about your experience. What was it like working with Clean Slate? You were a UV student.
Speaker 4: Yes, it was actually really good. So usually in PhD we have two types of research, academic research and industry research. So the academic research is aimed towards creating a proof of concept while industrial research is taking this proof of concept and trying to scale it and introduce into the market. So my advisor, Dr. Phillani, who was the principal investigator on this project, he wanted students to have both the knowledge, like the academic research as well as the industry researcher. That’s how I got introduced to Clean Slate. And it actually helped me a lot. My expertise was in simulations, and so I performed quite a lot of simulations. So clean slate and we found optimized geometry, which would create quite a increasing, which would increase efficiency of the product. Yeah.
Steve: Very good. And then Manju, let’s go back over to you on this next question. Have you ever worked with any other New York State funded resources and are there areas of assistance that you’re currently seeking?
Speaker 3: So to begin, the funding was our first funding that was offered to us from New York State, and we are incredibly thankful for that opportunity. And besides that, we have got an external funding from New York State, and then that led to us setting up our warehousing and servicing location in Buffalo. In terms of the areas of assistance that we are looking right now is both in the manufacturing space as well as engineering. We are a startup and then we have limited resources in terms of these staff. So always looking out for partners who would like to collaborate with us to bring this new technologies that can actually save several lives down the line to bring to real life of the, can you cut this Shari? I’m last again. I’m going to repeat this question one more time. Okay. So 43 North. So Steve, this is a question to you. Is 43 North New York State funded?
Steve: 43 North is I believe New York State funded. Yes.
Speaker 3: Okay, perfect.
Steve: We’ll talk about them. Yeah.
Speaker 3: Yes. Okay. So Page, you can start from now I guess. So in terms of funding from New York State, we were incredibly lucky to have a massive funding from 43 North. That was back in 2016 where Clean Slate was one of the six vendors out of 11,000 applications who were given half a million dollar cash price. That was definitely a huge catalyst for the company’s growth. And that led to us not only commercializing our current product, but also establishing our strong base in New York state and then after that, having the base in Buffalo, we were put in touch with University of Buffalo and eventually were introduced to… And thanks to… we made really good progress in product performance and clearly emerged as a leader in the space going forward. We are looking for partners both in manufacturing space and engineering space to help us accelerate our product development activities so that we can bring both the mercury- free technologies as well as more effective and efficient products into reality at a faster rate, so that we can together make a significant impact on saving a lot more lives in the hospitals as well as outside of hospitals.
Steve: Well that’s fantastic and you and I should talk some more offline sometime will continue to be happy to assist you in looking for manufacturing and engineering partners. And congratulations to you and the whole team on winning 43 North. That’s quite an accomplishment. It’s a great competition.
Speaker 3: Thank you, Steve. It’s a pleasure.
Steve: Very good. So we have been speaking today with, from Clean Slate UV, Claire Dobbin, who’s the product manager, Manju Anan, the chief technology Officer in Inam Reddy, AKA Andy Deep from UV. And next we are going to go over to Alan Ray and Chris Janssen from the University of Buffalo. So we just heard from Clean Slate UV about their engagement with the University of Buffalo. So now let’s talk to UV and find out their perspective on how things went. And we’re here with Chris Janssen, who is a business development executive, and with Alan Ray, who is the center director for the New York State Center of Excellence and Material Informatics for CMI. Chris and Alan, welcome to the podcast.
Chris: Thank you.
Alan: Thank you.
Steve: So Chris, I’m going to begin with you. Can you tell me a little bit about your engagement with Clean Slate UV?
Chris: Sure. So the CMI is intimately involved at the university level to help entrepreneurs and all things related to materials and informatics. We’re also intimately involved with the startup New York program and by connection as well to 43 North. So Clean Slate of course was a winner of 43 North in October 2015. And the way the process works there is startup New York and 43 North and the University of Buffalo, were all aligned, if you will, so that when these winners are announced in that great competition that we have, the very next day we all meet at the Hyatt Hotel and we have a round table discussion with the companies and the purpose of that is really to introduce them more to Buffalo in a little more intimate way. Let them know who the resources are at the University of Buffalo level and kind of help foster their interest in startup New York and where do we go from here? How can we help? Where do you need help? So that’s kind of where it all started, was actually just very next day, November 2015. I met with them and said, great presentation. Congratulations. How can I help? So that’s kind of my role as a concierge, if you will, to all things related to the University of Buffalo and even Western New York, broadly speaking.
Steve: Very good. And Alan, I am going to play dumb. Some people might say I’m not going to play at all, but what is material informatics?
Alan: That’s a very good question. So basically materials informatics is the use of data- driven decision- making, and that may be artificial intelligence, it may be deep learning, it may be database management that helps people make better decisions about materials. So it can be materials development, making products from specific materials. It could be processing or even recycling. So the whole life cycle of materials, how can we do it quicker, faster, more efficiently?
Steve: Very good. And Chris, my understanding of this project is that the Clean Slate UV team work with a professor. Is that pre typical for how these projects go? Are there sometimes some students involved as well?
Chris: Oh, definitely students and faculty, they were explaining how they wanted to evolve their product development and specifically related to the light and the reflectance and the UV light source, let’s say. So in my role is really to turn the page and say, well, which faculty? Turn the page, okay maybe this faculty. So I’m there to kind of help seed, if you will, these opportunities. So if they say, I have problem X, I find Professor Y, who’s an expert in Problem X and bring them together, that was Professor Edward Furlani in 2017, I think it was.
Steve: Okay, great. And then Alan, some people may have the perception that universities only work with big companies, and we know that’s not true. And I was wondering if you could speak to how your organization engages startups and what it’s like to work with them?
Alan: Well, we work with a bunch of startups. Generally we work with established companies as well, but with startups, we’re looking for startups that are scalable. We’re part of business and entrepreneur partnerships, which includes the incubators, it includes startup ventures. So we have a kind of pipeline of startups. We also are working with Blackstone Launchpad for student startups. So the idea is we kind of channel them into the resources that they need at the time. So we are basically working with pre- commercial development. So basically it’s the people who are developing a product that they’re then going to go out and sell. So it’s again, working with the student led business or the local entrepreneurs or matching them with students and faculty and the resources that they need to get it done.
Chris: Sometimes it’s even from a technology transfer organization perspective, sometimes there’s these nascent technologies that are brought forward in a disclosure, perhaps they get filed as patents. Sometimes those can spawn faculty led startups as well. So we’re also helping in that regard as well.
Alan: And let’s not forget the Jeff Lawrence Awards from Clean Slate managed to get one of these. We’ve done a few of these, and it’s a fabulous way for people to scale their businesses.
Chris: Yeah, definitely.
Steve: Wonderful, Alan, and I certainly appreciate that nice little pitch on behalf of FuzeHub and the Jeff Lawrence competition. And so Alan Ray, who is the center director, thank you for being here. And Chris Janssen, many thanks as well.
Chris: Thank you.
Alan: Thank you.
Steve: So on behalf of FuzeHub, New York MEP and New York State Manufacturing Now, this is Steve Milito signing off.