Carolyn Yarina is the CEO and co-founder of Sisu Global Health, a medical technology company focused meeting critical healthcare needs on emerging markets. In an era when 80% of the world’s medical technology is designed for only 10% of the global population, Sisu aims to bridge the gulf with cutting-edge, efficient, and life-saving devices. Sisu’s flagship product is the Hemafuse, a handheld emergency blood transfusion device that can be used up to 50 times. The company is currently developing its second product, the (r)Evolve, which separates blood with or without electricity in a matter of three minutes. Before starting Sisu, Carolyn founded and ran CentriCycle, a nonprofit dedicated to improving health care in rural India.
Carolyn Yarina spoke with citybizlist founder Edwin Warfield for this interview.
EDWIN WARFIELD: What brought the company from Michigan to Baltimore?
CAROLYN YARINA: Coming to Baltimore was a journey in and of itself. We started from being based out of Michigan and targeting our main focus on West Africa as a burgeoning hub of the growing middle class, growing focus on healthcare and medical devices and more and more money being spent on those, but without really the technologies that are designed specifically for that market. We moved to Baltimore, starting with the DreamIt Health Accelerator Program. That program really gave us the jump start we needed. We were already looking at this region of the United States. Michigan is wonderful at manufacturing medical devices, but what we were missing were those resources and mentorship on the international scale, on the supply chain. When you talk about Baltimore, and you think about Johns Hopkins and the resources that are there—D.C. being a stone’s throw away but not actually being in DC—and really giving us the foothold and the community support that we needed here in Baltimore to allow us to grow to help our organization as a medical device company for emerging markets.
Q. Tell us about starting the company.
A. Our first entrepreneurial steps were out of the University of Michigan, designing medical devices from an engineering background. How we came together is we actually launched two separate companies in medical devices in emerging markets right out of school. One of us started a medical device design firm out of Ghana, working on new medical devices, and one of us developed a nonprofit focused on world mobile clinics in India and so in that journey. With Katie and myself running that nonprofit in India, and Gillian running this medical device design firm, we realized that the opportunities were not just around individual medical devices; they were around the system and the pipeline to create products that are designed for emerging markets.
Q. Who are some of your partners?
The reason we are where we are today is because of our amazing, tenacious team but it is also because of our partnerships that we’ve established. We’ve had some pretty impressive partnerships to date who have helped us get here. We have partnered with USAID, Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, Government of Norway, and UKAID—all in one fell swoop with a large partnership through a grant that we were able to win. We’ve been able to allow ourselves to grow as with this focus on emerging markets and prove ourselves with quite a bit of non-diluted capital to supplement the pieces of investment we’ve gotten from TEDCO, from DreamIt—which includes Johns Hopkins, Biohealth Innovation, and Abell Foundation—and it’s allowed us to get to this point we’re at now, where we have a manufactured product. We have a subsidiary incorporated in Ghana, we have letters of support and people really reaching out to us about how great of a need and how interested they are in our first product because of the opportunity for them to both save lives and also to incentivize themselves on the supply chain process and how money currently is being spent, and being able to use the resources more appropriately.
Q. You’ve emphasized the word “tenacious” a couple times, and it’s a word I’ve also seen on your website and marketing material.
A. The reason we use the word “tenacious” is because our vision was born of failure. In our first companies, we didn’t have the right business models. We didn’t have the complete skill sets we needed on our team. It was in coming together from two separate companies that we created the whole that is Sisu Global Health.