The word “sisu” is a Finnish word used colloquially around Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It means, “resilience,” “determination” or “perseverance in the face of adversity.” Appropriately, Sisu Global Health lives up to its tough name.

Sisu Global Health is a Michigan-based, social venture and medical device company that provides medical equipment in areas where technology is scarce. Currently, the company’s focus is in Ghana.

According to University alum Carolyn Yarina, chief executive officer of Sisu Global Health, 80 percent of the world’s medical technology is designed for 10 percent of the world’s population, leaving 90 percent without access to adequate medical equipment.

“Over the past couple of years, the amount of times we’ve heard doctors say, essentially, if they just had simple technology — a microscope here, or access to blood, or an ultrasound, or a lot of simple things— they could save lives,” Yarina said. “But they don’t have access to a lot of these technologies.”

Sisu Global Health is working to prepare the Ghanaian market for its new product, the Hemafuse — a device that retransfuses a patient’s blood.

While in Ghana, the Sisu Global Health team members observed that blood transfusions in the area were hindered by high costs and inadequate infrastructure. Transfusions are most needed in cases involving complicated pregnancies or traffic accidents resulting in severe blood loss. The cost for testing and then processing one pint of blood is about $50 in Ghana, Yarina said.

The price for patients usually falls between $50 and $150 for one to three pints of donor blood. If patients are unable to pay for donor blood, doctors can attempt to collect the lost blood and return it to that same person’s body. According to Yarina, some do so using a soup ladle and gauze.

However, the Hemafuse technology provides a safer, more efficient and sanitary blood collection method. The device then returns the blood directly to the patient. According to Sisu Global Health’s website, Hemafuse requires one-third of the time it takes a soup ladle to do the same job, and one-ninth the staff.

Hospitals would purchase a device while patients would only need to purchase a $10 filter piece.

Sisu Global Health began last spring when two University-based companies, CentriCycle and Design Innovations for Infants and Mothers Everywhere, Inc., joined forces.

Yarina was the founder of CentriCycle, while University alum Gillian Henker, chief technology officer of Sisu Global Health, founded DIIME.

“We were in the same social venture practicum,” Yarina said. “We had the same overarching vision, but initially we had different paths we wanted to take to get to that same point.”

Different as they may have been at first, both paths lead to the health care facet of social entrepreneurship.

The field of social entrepreneurship recognizes critical gaps in social issues and systems, said University alum Grace Hsia, CEO and co-founder of Warmilu, a for-profit company that provides heating technologies for therapy and at-risk infants.

“The solution that the social entrepreneur is trying to present helps to change systems, not just address symptoms of a problem,” Hsia said.

Hsia met Yarina and Henker in TechArb, a program encouraging University students to explore their ideas through applied entrepreneurial education and experience.

For Yarina, her path began before TechArb in her freshman year Engineering 100 class. Her chemical engineering adviser was Dr. Susan Montgomery, the Chemical Engineering Undergraduate Program adviser.

In this class, Yarina and her group members worked on an earlier version of Sisu Global Health’s (r)Evolve, a blood-separating centrifuge that allows for easier diagnosis with a rapid diagnostic test. Though not currently on the market, (r)Evolve technology could more effectively diagnose cases of HIV, malaria, hepatitis, syphilis and typhoid fever.

Montgomery recalled Yarina and her Engineering 100 group using a bicycle tire to make a centrifuge. They used the spoke of the bicycle as a test tube holder and were able to move the pedal and turn the wheel to get “centrifugal action,” Montgomery said.

“I’ve seen many people start projects and think about taking it to the next level, but none of the groups have done it to the extent that this team has,” Montgomery said. “They could have been done and moved to other things but that they would hold onto it and grow it to this extent, and with the leadership that Carolyn has had in making this possible, it’s energizing.”

Four years down the road, in 2013, Albion College alum Katie Kirsch, chief marketing officer of Sisu Global Health, joined Yarina’s CentriCycle team. She joined shortly after returning home from Rwanda where she had a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship at the National University of Rwanda.

It was her experience in Rwanda that influenced Kirsch to join the cause of her current partners Yarina and Henker.

“I had a lot of students who were unable to come to class because either they had health complications themselves or their family members did,” Kirsch said. “I felt like I couldn’t influence my student’s lives in the way that I wanted to.”

Kirsch said the inefficiency and inaccessibility of the hospitals prevented many Rwandans from receiving proper care, which hospitals should be able to administer with ease.

Determined to solve that problem, Kirsch, Yarina, and Henker joined forces a year later through Sisu Global Health.

The group decided to build their company around what they call “human-centered design.”

Their first step was to observe, Yarina said. Instead of searching for an adequate market for an existing product, the trio studied the medical system in Ghana, pinpointed the issues and designed their product accordingly.

Throughout the project, they have spoken to doctors, administrators, maintenance staff and patients to gauge the needs of the area.

“We’re partnering directly with these doctors who wouldn’t usually have their opinion asked of them, which is silly,” Kirsch said.

Yarina noted that the company has a “double bottom line” — success to them means not only financial gain, but also the impact they cause.

Financially, the group decided that the best way to make an impact was through DIIME’s for-profit route rather than CentriCycle’s nonprofit one.

“If you give something away, you can probably only access maybe a village, or a couple hundred people,” Yarina said. “But if you actually sell something in scale, there’s the potential to impact the whole world.”

Currently, Sisu is in the testing phase of their Hemafuse product and hopes to run clinical trials on patients within the next year.

They’ve built relationships with Ghanaian hospitals, created a subsidiary legal business entity in Ghana and hope to hire someone on the ground in Ghana soon.

While Sisu Global Health aims to implement the Hemafuse product in Ghana, they also hope to commercially manufacture (r)Evolve in the future and extend their products to India, which was CentriCycle’s original market.

Hsia said Sisu Global Health is in a unique situation due to the “diverse skillsets” brought together in the union of the CentriCycle and DIIME teams.

“By putting these two groups together and all of their collective knowledge and customer base, I think they’re going to do great things,” Hsia said. “I’m really excited and proud of them.”

Corrections appended:A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Gillian Henker’s last name as “Genker.” The previous article also incorrectly stated Dr. Susan Montgomery was Yarina’s engineering 100 professor.

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