Both Mert Iseri and Yuri Malina traveled quite a distance in order to attend Northwestern, but it was worth the trip. Mert, who hails from Istanbul, and Yuri, from France, both chose to attend Northwestern due to a desire to study a variety of topics, whereas higher education in their home countries leans towards specialization. “The main reason I went to Northwestern was because I got accepted into the integrated science program,” says Yuri. “I wanted to study all the sciences with equal weight.”
The two met while living across the hall from each other. After discovering shared backgrounds in problem-solving and entrepreneurship (Mert’s grandfather started the first mattress company in Turkey; Yuri’s grandfather co-founded the Jet Propulsion Laboratory), the pair co-founded Design for America, a student group that aims to address social and public health issues through innovative design.
While brainstorming projects, Mert and Yuri came up with the idea for their company SwipeSense—a smart hand hygiene sensor—after spending time in the Intensive Care Unit at NorthShore hospital.
“It was so shocking to get into this hospital where doctors and nurses were sitting in the hallway checking boxes to measure how often workers sanitized their hands,” says Yuri. “It made us realize there was a really big opportunity for design and technology to play a role here.”
As of June 2015, the company’s total funding came to $12.1 million, and in a year the company staff grew from six to 32 people. The pair has ambitious yet straightforward goals for the future. “In three to five years, if you’re at a hospital that’s not measuring hand hygiene electronically, you should leave,” says Mert. “We are starting with hand hygiene, but connectivity is the future of healthcare; we are building a connected hospital.”
The two believe that with the education and support they received at Northwestern, it is their responsibility to solve big problems. In this case, it is preventing 70,000 deaths that occur every year in America due to hospital-acquired infections. “Some of the best and brightest minds are working to get you to click an ad on a website,” says Yuri. “That potential could be applied to much larger problems in the world—even greater than hand hygiene. We can do so much better.”
Mert credits Northwestern for giving Yuri and him the gift of ambition. “Learning and being intellectually engaged is fantastic enough. But the honey over the bread, as we say in Turkey, is finding the grand challenge that we want to fix in the world. We left Northwestern with the power to leave a dent in history. What more can we ask for? We’re thankful for that every single day.”
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