Healthcare startup SwipeSense looks good to win WSJ’s Startup of the Year

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SwipeSense startup of the yearAfter 19 weeks of pitching, redesigning and answering tough questions, 24 startups have been whittled down to three on Wall Street Journal’s web documentary series Startup of the Year. And a healthcare startup could very well walk away the winner.

SwipeSense, a graduate of the Healthbox digital health incubator in Chicago, is leading in audience voting. That’s great, but it doesn’t actually count for anything. The real winner will be decided by a panel of WSJ editors who have been following the companies and working with the show’s mentors throughout the entire process.

Here’s a brief look at the final three companies:

  • SwipeSense makes a portable dispenser that clips onto the scrubs of clinicians and dispenses hand sanitizer with the push of a button, eliminating the need for nurses and doctors to walk to a wall-mounted dispenser to disinfect their hands. Meanwhile, electronics inside the device capture hand hygiene compliance data that can be monitored by supervisors. Co-founders Mert Iseri and Yuri Malina say this addresses two of the biggest issues with hand hygiene compliance in healthcare — a lack of convenience and a lack of awareness among professionals that they aren’t complying with protocols. By providing these things, the co-founders think they could make a dent in the problem of hospital-acquired infections.
  • To detect dangerous gas leaks on rigs and refineries before they occur, Rebellion Photonics has built a gas cloud imaging camera. It continuously monitors, quantifies and displays potentially harmful gas leaks in real time. Rice University alumni Allison Lami Sawyer and Robert Kester, a physicist and a bioengineer respectively, started the company in 2010. They offer a monthly subscription service to oil and gas companies and are cash-flow positive, Sawyer says.
  • The Muse wants to help people find and land a job that suits them. To do that, it runs a website that makes video profiles of companies to provide insight into their corporate culture alongside their job postings. Other sections of the site distribute career advice content and free “online courses” delivered via email. Co-founders Alex Cavoulacos, Kathryn Minshew and Melissa McCreery took the company through the Y-Combinator program and are working with companies like Groupon, Dell and the NFL.

The Muse and Rebellion Photonics seem to have more significant revenues and a more solid foundation in their respective markets, but I think SwipeSense could win. Why? It’s got a combination of dynamic co-founders, smart design, data from in-hospital pilots, a few initial customers, a key partner and investor in BlueCross BlueShield, plus (here’s the kicker) emotional appeal and a great startup story.

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Rebellion has most of those things, too, as well as positive cash flow. And founder Sawyer was sharp and even a little bit derisive when she posed questions to the other founders during the debate segment. But Iseri was nearly flawless in defending the company’s business model, potential impact and position to take on competitors.

Then he delivered this closing argument: “The question that we really ought to be asking is, in our wildest dreams, what does our success mean for the greater society? In SwipeSense, this means we could save 100,000 lives every single year.”

Ok, that might be a bit of a stretch, but it’s a compelling thought.

The winner will be announced in the final episode of the series on Monday.

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Deanna Pogorelc

By Deanna Pogorelc MedCity News

Deanna Pogorelc is a Cleveland-based reporter who writes obsessively about life science startups across the country, looking to technology transfer offices, startup incubators and investment funds to see what’s next in healthcare. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University and previously covered business and education for a northeast Indiana newspaper.
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