This Finnish health startup has developed a berry-based spray to kill bacteria and is safe to use on delicate mobile screens
With flu season hitting in full force, everyone is trying to find ways to stay healthy and sane. Short of sealing yourself off in a bubble, there are some easy steps to reduce your risk of getting sick. While washing your hands and other common sense measures are useful, there’s one place that few think about in fighting germs.
“Phones and touch screens on tablets are dirtier than a public toilet,” says Dmitry Genin, the CEO and Co-founder of Nordic Hug.
Genin and his team have developed a spray for cleaning sensitive touch screens that they say successfully kills bacteria, helping to stem the spread of disease. So far, the company has tested out their product on strains like E. coli, MRSA, and Salmonella.
While they have not had the opportunity, Genin says that in theory, their spray should even be against Ebola. Hopefully they won’t have to test this one out in person.
“The formula attacks bacteria microbes that are encapsulated,” he explained to Geektime, breaking through their barriers to kill them. “While these diseases are deadly, they’re easy to kill outside.”
Founded in the summer of 2012 when they started research (R&D), they went to market at the end of 2013 with a wet wipe aimed at testing customer interest. The team is made up of five, including Genin who founded the company along with COO Claudia Anton, and former CTO Neda Ehsani who has since moved on to another position in biotechnology. Based in Espoo, Finland, they belong to the first generation of the healthtech accelerator Vertical.
Since alcohol and other cleaners destroy the special coating on smartphone and tablet screens, the team understood that there was no product on the market at that time for cleaning these devices’ surfaces.
It had to be up to professional grade for cleaning says Genin, but without elements that would harm the screens. This forced the team to look for natural solutions.
Genin explains that the government research office VTT, the Technical Research Centre of Finland, had been studying arctic berries to find the most potent type for their antibacterial qualities, concluding that berries are natural agents for fighting bacteria.
Eventually, according to Genin, they declared that the arctic cloudberry had shown the best results, leading Nordic Hug to base their product on its extracts. They currently have multiple patents pending on their products.
Defining their markets
Their primary markets as a B2B startup (business-to-business) are targeted at education, aerospace, offices, and healthcare — basically places that have a large number of use needs. They have been certified by Boeing and Airbus and have received certificates from SMI Inc, passing on their first try when Genin says that it normally takes three to four years for approval. In order for a product to be accepted for use on aircraft, it must be deemed safe for use on all surfaces, from windows to the cockpit instruments.
The company sees education as an ideal market for their product due in part to the popularity of using tablets in the classroom. As these devices are passed around between children, they collect any germs that the kids have on them.
“Bacteria likes laptops and mobile devices since they stay warm and are passed around,” Genin explains, adding that schools are not used to this and now need to learn to clean them. Nordic Hug has begun working in schools through their partnership with the Samsung Smart Classroom program in Finland. As part of the project, the distributor goes into the classroom or other place that the product is being used to explain to the teachers how and why to use the product.
Nordic Hug is also looking to the public market, selling in UAE, Saudi, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Scandinavia, and Russia. They have a logistical system in place for manufacturing and are partnering with Ingram Micro and others for distribution. The consumer package retails for €9.90 and is small enough to take on planes.
Regarding competition, the Finnish team is joining another Nordic in this field. AM Denmark has a line of cleaning products that also provides safe cleaning for screens. Their spray retails between $14.95 and $34.95, but comes in a reusable container.
Looking to the future, Genin says that they are hoping to introduce their products into hospitals since they could have a significant impact on reducing the transmission of harmful bacteria there. So far, the road to approval has been rocky, with Genin explaining that the process for the hospitals, especially for a young company, can take an extended period of time. He notes that even General Electric can take three years on average to bring a new device into this slow adapting field.
There are plenty of arguments to be made over what counts as too clean. Genin acknowledges that cleaning needs to be done in moderation, telling Geektime that tidy is good but there is no need to be a total clean freak.
Excluding hospitals, where patients may have lowered immune systems, bacteria can be beneficial in certain circumstances as it can build up resistance. Some studies have pointed to overly sterile environments in specific societies as being the cause behind the rise in allergies.
That said, Nordic Hug is providing an important solution that could play a big role in protecting public health. As touch screens become more widespread, not only in education settings, but also as service stations at banks, airports, and a thousand and one other automated interaction locations, reducing the spread of diseases will increasingly become an issue.
Consider how often our devices are in our hands, and where we take them. Gone are the days of the magazine in the bathroom, having been replaced by iPads or phones. Is anybody thinking about whether they are washing their hands before touching them? What about when you flush the toilet, sending all those particles shooting up into the air? Fun stuff right? At least your toilet should be getting cleaned by some pretty heavy duty chemicals, but what about your phone?
After having tried out the spray on my iPhone 6, it is still too early to say if it is keeping me from contracting anything that I haven’t already picked up from those around me. I can say though that the fingerprint ID is still responding the way it should, even after getting wiped down with the spray, which was definitely a concern for me going in.
Still a young company, their product has a wide appeal that both institutions and retailers should stand up and take notice of. With their solid team and the network that they have established, including their direct link to Samsung through Vertical, this will be a company worth watching as they continue to expand.