While finishing up his studies in Chemistry (MSc 2010, Jik Chin group), Leo Mui caught the entrepreneurial bug. He participated in Techno, a crash course in scientific entrepreneurship offered by the University of Toronto’s Impact Centre, and with fellow chemist Scott McAuley (MSc 2010, Cynthia Goh group), decided to take the plunge. Together they started Lunanos, a company that they hope will revolutionize sanitation in healthcare settings.
When they first launched the company, the idea was to develop a new silver nanoparticle-based antimicrobial, building on technology developed in Chemistry. But the thing about entrepreneurship, says Mui, is that “you will fail.” While not exactly failure, they found that the disinfectant market was going to be very hard nut to crack. However, they’d spent several years learning about the disinfectant infection prevention and control market, and the challenges faced by hospitals and other health care settings trying to maintain a sterile environment. One thing they’d heard repeatedly is that it is very difficult to track the cleaning of mobile equipment. Their answer to this challenge is IndiClean™, a sticker that tracks how recently a surface has been cleaned.
Using proprietary ink technology, IndiClean™ works by changing colour after it is wiped with a disinfectant. Then, after a set amount of time, it reverts back to its original colour, providing a reminder to health care workers that the item needs to be cleaned. It’s a solution that is elegant, simple, and effective. Because they visually alert workers that an item needs to be cleaned, there is no need to record, or look up, sanitation history in a log book.
Mui says that Lunanos has benefitted greatly from its ties to the UofT, including use of Chemistry’s analytical facilities, support from the Impact Centre, and having a lab in the Best building on College St., also home to the Banting and Best Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. They’ve been able to build up the company thanks to support from a variety of funding sources, including a Stars in Global Health award from Grand Challenges Canada. Initially though, the company also undertook a number of consulting contracts, and Mui says his background in Chemistry proved truly valuable in this regard. As they began to work closely with disinfectant manufacturers and others involved with infection control, they were able help companies solve manufacturing or formulation issues using skills built up in Chemistry, and in doing so, were able to secure badly needed seed funding.
Coyly, Mui also suggests that his time in Chemistry prepared him for the trials and tribulations of starting a company in another way. “One of the benefits of going to grad school is that you learn what perpetual failure is like, and how to pick yourself up and continue. And also feeling the extreme gratification once you do achieve your goals. That really prepares you for entrepreneurship.” It forces one to develop a special kind of resiliency that goes well with entrepreneurship.
Although Mui says he no longer gives estimates as to when Lunanos might finish scaling up production of their IndiClean™ stickers, the company has already tested their prototypes in hospitals in Canada and in the Philippines, and if all goes according to plan, their stickers may soon start appearing in health care facilities near you.