Keeping up on your 'Hy-genie'
As part of a new mini-series with Nova, a Liverpool-based tech cofoundery that partners with entrepreneurs to turn ideas into successful, scalable tech startups, in sectors including healthtech, fintech and edtech, Startups Magazine caught up with Gavin Delaney CEO, of Hy-genie.
Tell me about your startup and what they do?
Hy-genie is an active monitoring system that allows hospitals to autonomously detect the usage of hand hygiene stations by their medical staff. The system provides real-time insight into staff's hand hygiene behaviour and frequency, without disrupting existing hospital workflows, and minimal interruption to healthcare service.
Hy-genie consists of 3 distinct hardware components: a beacon incorporated into the NHS staff ID badge, a sensor adjacent to a wall-mounted hand gel or soap dispensers and a centrally located base station.
Information on the usage of hygiene stations is uploaded to a dashboard, where staff can view their own performance and to see how they are progressing towards their own performance goals. Fundamentally, the system is able to fit into a typical clinical environment, without any disrupting to the existing workflows of very busy NHS staff.
Where did the idea come from / How long have you been going?
Hy-genie was founded by Dr Richard Cooke, retired consultant medical microbiologist and Director of Infection Prevention & Control at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool. In his role at Alder Hey, he was responsible for minimising the risks of patients acquiring healthcare associated infections (HCAIs).
It comes as a surprise to most people when they learn that hand hygiene is actually quite poor in hospitals and is a recognised problem in clinical settings worldwide. There have been many attempts to solve the issue at an operational level, such as adding more sanitation units throughout hospitals like hand gel dispensers and washing basins. But, they are not necessarily effective in improving the hand hygiene compliance of clinical staff as it is difficult to keep capture this information accurately.
Richard’s long standing passion for tackling preventable healthcare-associated infections linked to hand hygiene practices, led him to co-found Hy-genie in 2017 with Nova, a tech startup cofoundery based in Liverpool, who provided him with the technical team to build and help scale the startup into a viable business.
What have some of the biggest challenges been?
As with every start-up, we’ve had our hiccups along the way. Firstly convincing people outside the NHS that maintaining good hand hygiene practices is a really important issue that needs to be tackled and warrants investment. Secondly to ensure that NHS staff are on your side by constantly seeking their feedback so that the proposed solution will really help them in their role and will not be seen as a threat. Finally, bringing together the right team with the appropriate technical expertise funded in an appropriate manner for our product development and clinical evaluation.
How have you managed through the COVID-crisis and lockdown?
As a team we have managed quite well, we are all used to working remotely so that posed no problem. We use a remote team of developers and our data is all cloud based so from a technical point of view it has caused us no issues. Richard has been back working in Alder Hey during the crisis and we have thus been able to maintain access to the hospital. However, as with everyone else in the country, the team has been missing some of the face to face contact that we all take for granted in building and maintaining business relationships.
Have you had to make any big changes and how have you pivoted and adapted?
The biggest change we have made is that by the start of April we had developed a new product that was specifically targeted to tackle the spread of Covid-19 on hospital wards. In simple terms this was a scaled back version of our technology platform that we have called Hy-genie Lite. It is smaller, less cumbersome, quicker to deploy, requires less staff training and interaction and is significantly cheaper that the full product.
How has COVID affected your business?
Covid has brought to the forefront of everyone's minds the importance of good hand hygiene. Whilst the advice we are given seems, to many people, to be constantly changing, the consistent message has been to wash our hands. Hygenie-lite puts this front and centre of the fight against Covid. Whilst we have had our challenges as have every business we have also been extremely fortunate in so far as our technology is very much of the moment.
What does the future have in store for you?
As mentioned before, we have just launched our first commercial site in Alder Hey, we hope to expand on this and have entered discussions with several interested parties. Whilst Hygenie-lite is the short term focus we hope to be able to launch a modular upgrade to it that will deploy our full technology seamlessly on top of the Lite system in Q3 this year.
Do you have any advice for other startups out there?
- Understand your customer - Too often start-ups fail, not because they have a bad idea, but because they build the wrong thing. The best way to avoid this is regularly getting feedback from both your users and your customer (they’re not always the same person).
- It's easier to spend your investment than raise it - Be critical of your expenditure. In a new start-ups, funding will likely be your scarcest resource, so be precise in where you place your bets. Throwing money at the problem is rarely the best solution.