On a visit to a clinic in rural India, Carolyn Yarina saw a need for a device that can separate blood into plasma and white and red cells — without electricity to power a centrifuge.
In a West African hospital, her business partner Gillian Henker watched as doctors used what was essentially a cup to collect and reuse blood from internal bleeding after running out of expensive bags of donor blood.
The ideas prompted the women, along with colleague Katie Kirsch, to found Sisu Global Health. Starting with a device known as Hemafuse, which can better help doctors recycle patients' blood, they plan to build a pipeline of medical devices that might be rudimentary compared to others being developed in the United States but could save millions of lives in other parts of the world.
The concept and the opportunity it presents is drawing attention to Sisu — including the $100,000 investment from AOL co-founder Steve Case the company won in his "Rise of the Rest" live pitch competition Monday. That money will go toward a $700,000 round of investment Sisu is raising to pay for studies needed to put Hemafuse on the market in Ghana.
"Before we can build any pipeline, we need to have success with this first product," said Yarina, calling it a first step to "changing the landscape for medical devices in emerging markets."
Yarina has a background in engineering, and first saw opportunity in medical devices through a nonprofit she founded that worked with mobile clinics in India. What started with a class project and a survey sent to clinics in the developing world has led to Sisu's promise.
The company found its way to Baltimore to participate in the DreamIt Health Accelerator and will soon move into new space at the Centre Theater in Station North.
Aside from its concept, Sisu also is getting attention for being an all-women startup — though that could change soon as the company looks to hire, Yarina said.
"There's challenges and there's extra opportunities we get as well," she said. "We get a second look often in a room. Especially with medical devices, we walk into a room and we may be the only females there."
The Evening Sun
Title: CEO, Sisu Global Health
From: Upper Peninsula of Michigan
Residence: Mount Vernon
Education: Bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan
Hobbies: Book club, running, artwork