“My dream and my passion is to develop a sustainable and scalable model for cities.”
Ibraheem Alinur, the founder of City Health Tech, leads 20 people on this mission starting with an educational platform and a patent-pending device to track and encourage longer hand washing times. In grades K-12 alone, 164 million students miss school each year due to preventable illness. The Garage sat down with Ibraheem and two other members of his team to find out more about them and the story behind their startup.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What problem are you trying to solve?
Ibraheem: We’re trying to make people less sick. A study performed by Northwestern in a second grade classroom actually showed that education alone can actually decrease rates of infection and increase attendance. If you wash your hands for 8-10 seconds, in 2 hours, it will actually be as if you never washed your hands at all. Washing them for 20 seconds is twice as effective, and we’re trying to get people to that mark.
What is your solution to this problem?
Ibraheem: We’ve built the first-of-its-kind data capture technology. Nobody is currently able to capture hand washing data anonymously – you can’t put cameras in public restrooms and you can’t have someone standing there to time how long someone washes their hands. This is the first time that anyone can get that rich data set. And from there, we can figure out what actually encourages longer hand washing times. It’s hard to show a change of behavior if we have no baseline to go off of. Broadly speaking, our device attaches to a sink and can detect whether someone is at a sink and whether they are washing their hands. This will then trigger a display with an animation designed to encourage people to wash their hands. Education is also important. Different posters will have different effects. The same thing taught in a different way can have a drastic impact.
After handwashing, what’s the next problem space for City Health Tech?
Ibraheem: We want to invest what we’ve learned into other technologies working to improve cities. There’s energy, emergency response, transportation, housing, and a bunch of other things that affect cities, so I’d probably jump into one of these. I’d also like to scale educational curriculum to make kids more aware of their communities. If we’re already teaching kids to wash their hands, what other things can we teach kids that are small and impactful to their communities?
What’s been your biggest challenge so far?
Ibraheem: Engineering is really tough. It’s a long cycle and you have a lot of bugs and things that pop up that you can’t even predict. It’s really hard to plan when you don’t know how long things will take. Over the course of two years, we’ve tested over 25 different sensors. In engineering, it’s just difficult making good design. It’s hard.
Why did you join the team?
Anya: I really like Ibraheem’s energy and vision. I like how long-term he’s thinking and his goal of turning cities smart. The most valuable experience for me so far has just been talking to Ibraheem and hearing more about his background. He knows so much – this is his third startup.
Imran: I heard about the company through Segal, and I thought it would be fun to get involved in because I knew Ibraheem beforehand. When he talked about the device, he explained how much progress had been made, and that showed me that it was more than just a hypothetical idea and really has the potential to make an impact.
What has stood out to you as an “Ah-ha” moment during this entire experience?
Ibraheem: This last spring felt for the first time like running a real company. It was the first time managing both a large business and engineering team. Every week I was meeting four to five people to get our ideas in front of as many interesting people as possible to help scale and get feedback. My “ah-ha” moment was that I like this work. I think that I could be a CEO. But I don’t think that being a CEO is for everyone. I didn’t know if it would be for me. But I like having this experience telling me ‘you know what, I think that this is the type of work I do like, I’m good at it. I thrive in building, selling, and managing teams.
This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting the startup teams admitted to Wildfire, The Garage’s Summer Pre-Accelerator Program. For more information about Wildfire, click here.