“Gillian and I knew each other from college, and we both had our own companies before we started Sisu Global Health. Gillian founded a medical device design firm focused on Ghana, and I founded a nonprofit working with rural mobile clinics in India.
We both realized the strengths and weaknesses of our own business models and ourselves, so we decided to found a company focused on designing medical devices for the growing middle class in emerging markets.
We were inspired to start Sisu Global Health because we saw large medical device companies taking their U.S.-European equipment and paring off features to make them cheaper, rather than designing medical devices for the growing middle class in emerging markets.
We decided that Hemafuse, a handheld autotransfusion device that enables clinicians to salvage, filter and recycle blood from patients with internal bleeding, was the right flagship product to help us realize that vision and to be that commercial proof point that you can design a medical device specifically for emerging markets and not only have impact, but also have strong commercial success.
We founded Sisu Global Health in 2014 while working side jobs to support our core job. In 2015, we intentionally moved our startup from Michigan to Baltimore. We were assessing different cities to see which one met our criteria for advisors and mentors with new medical device expertise and experience with the international component of the business, and we decided on Baltimore because it checked those boxes.
We were accepted into the Dreamit Health accelerator program, which is affiliated with Johns Hopkins University. This was a great launching pad for Sisu Global Health because it has helped us connect with strong mentors, some of whom are on our advisory boards now.”
“After the program ended, we were thinking about going back to Michigan, but we decided to stay in Baltimore because of the strong medical device and healthcare ecosystem here which is important for the global health sphere.
We have Jhpiego, an international, non-profit health organization and they've really helped us. When we came here, we had a 3D printed prototype, and we've grown from that 3D printed prototype all the way to validation testing, regulatory clearance, to market entry and our first sales.
The majority of our financing has come from investors in the Baltimore/D.C. area, so it's been a really great home for us.
It's important to uplift and represent different voices within our community and the world, because that's how you ensure equitable and commercial success. When you have different voices represented, it creates a stronger economy.
It's not about how one individually makes the most money, but how do we increase the size of the pride together and ensure that we have solutions that work for everyone.
I'll give you some data from the global perspective: 80% of all medical devices are designed for 10% of the world's population. That's because the right voices are not being uplifted to solve challenges within their own communities with those resources.
You see the same challenges with resources in Baltimore. We're leaving a lot of opportunities on the table and we're concentrating it in small areas. There's a lot that can be done to change that and how we do it is to uplift different voices within our community.
I think the prime thing is providing opportunities for more diversity and creativity, because through that, you’re going to get better results.
At Sisu, I do design, development, and early manufacturing of our devices, so my hopes for the future of Baltimore’s economy are to see more of that. We’re well known for our medical community, but there is an opportunity to grow the business side of healthcare and what we can provide in terms of medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology.”
“I founded a nonprofit right out of college and moved over to India. I became disillusioned with the nonprofit model in the medical device space because I saw large medical device companies take their U.S.-European equipment and pare off features to make it cheaper before trying to sell it to the growing middle class.
That was really what spurred me to reach out to Gillian and create Sisu Global Health. I think that perspective is important because it taught us not only what to do, but also what not to do when providing medical device equipment.
We really wanted to create an entity that was customer driven and put the customer at the center when we made decisions about cost and all of the training components for our devices, instead of catering towards the donor side of things.”
“I went to Ghana with a group of engineers to focus on maternal and infant health challenges at a teaching hospital there. That's where the inspiration for Hemafuse came about because we saw an opportunity to make devices designed to meet the needs of the patients there.
The work was focused on design, but there's a big bridge to gap in terms of actually making an impact. So that's where being in Ghana, seeing the need and connecting with clinicians was a great inspiration for us to create our first designs and patents for Hemafuse.
Connecting with Carolyn showed us there was a bigger opportunity to bridge that gap and get the device into the patient's hands. Hemafuse is now in use in Ghana, which is an amazing journey to have gone from the initial idea, all the way to having the device in use at that same teaching hospital.
As you can imagine, we’ve had different challenges throughout the years. Looking back, I’ve given names to the years based on the primary obstacle we faced. I’ll say, this was the year of regulatory, distribution, or manufacturing challenges.
Our main challenges are usually the unknown unknowns. Figuring things out as you go along can sometimes be painful, but the experiences we’ve acquired have been beneficial for growing the business.”
“We know it’s not the easiest work, moving around and selling medical devices in Africa with a for-profit vision of bringing those products to the people who need them most, but we found the right partners and investors and we’ve persevered through those challenges.
Sisu, the name of our company, means “persevering in the face of adversity” and not only do we design medical devices for those that persevere, but it's also a core belief that we hold within ourselves.”