Photo by Caitlin Perrone
Company’s mission is to keep it clean
There are 49 germs per square inch on a public toilet seat, while the average pen hosts 2,400 germs per square inch, according to a study done by Arizona microbiologist Dr. Charles P. Gerba in 2002. Although public toilet seats are cleaned more often, the community pens that sit on counters at banks, supermarkets and restaurants are not usually cleaned, said Cleanint CEO Tuan Dam.
That fact led to the creation of Cleanint, a local Georgetown company focused on a very simple task: cleaning products that are used daily, and by many people.
Dam was born in Vietnam in 1968, and came to America during the Vietnam War. He lived in a city called Da Nang, just south of the line separating the north and the south. Once his family realized the North Vietnamese were going to win, he said, they tried to get out of the country as quickly as possible, he said.
At 6 years old, Dam traveled ahead with his father and five older brothers, while his mother and his younger brother and sister remained behind. Eventually they settled in San Diego. Dam’s father was killed in a car accident in 1977, and a missionary family took in all six boys until they were reunited with his mother and siblings in 1987. However, Dam lived with his with foster parents through high school.
“We’re fortunate. God has allowed us to do well,” Dam said. “We went to school, got some education, I got involved in [information technology], and we’re fortunate.”
Dam came up with the idea for the Cleanpen while picking up food at Pei Wei in Round Rock in March 2009. As he waited in line to pay for his order, the man in front of him walked out of the bathroom and signed for his food, he said.
“And let’s be honest, guys, men, do not wash their hands,” Dam said. “So he takes the pen out of the common pen pool, and there’s only one pen. So that meant I had to use the pen he was going to use.”
Dam turned to his son, Justin, to remark that this problem must cause many people to get sick. He challenged his son to find a way to fix the problem, but later determined he should find a solution.
Over the next eight months he built the company, and in November 2009 launched the Cleanpen. The device is a penholder mountable to surfaces such as whiteboards, tables or computer monitors. While inside the holder, the pen is cleaned by a sponge filled with benzalkonium chloride, a chemical typically used as a disinfectant in operating rooms.
After the launch of their first product, the company expanded to include the Cleanstylus, a penholder mounted to credit card terminals to clean the electronic pen and prevent customers from spreading germs. The Cleanstethoscope, meanwhile, is a clean sponge that clips on a doctor or nurses’ stethoscope to continually disinfect it.
“The stethoscope touches the diaphragm of every patient,” said Todd Whitley, vice president of business development and marketing for Cleanint. “The average doctor may see 10 to 20 patients in day, and the average nurse is seeing maybe 30. The one thing they use every day is the stethoscope.”
Dam encourages his customers to replace the sponge for the Cleanpen and Cleanstylus every two weeks. Because nurses and doctors use their stethoscope every day, he encourages physicians to replace the sponge at the end of every shift.
“We hope this is as expected as a doctor wearing gloves—having a clean stethoscope,” Whitley said. “We think it’ll be like a microwave in every kitchen. It took a long time for the microwave to get into the kitchen, but now people wouldn’t think of building a home without a microwave in it. It’s just a part of the fabric of what’s expected, and that’s what we hope to do with our products.”
Clean school, better learning
Cleanint will partner with Mitchell Elementary School to implement a program for the 2012–13 school year, Cleanint CEO Tuan Dam said. The school is looking for ways to improve the health and educational experience for students and staff, Principal Rob Dyer said.
“We’re always trying to improve our attendance rates, and obviously keep kids healthy,” he said. “The most important thing is keeping kids healthy so that they stay in school.”
Dyer heard Dam present information about Cleanint at the Rotary Club of Georgetown and began to research the company and the process. Because grades correlate with attendance, he said, the school has taken steps to reduce infection and illness.
Where Cleanint will be implemented this fall:
- A Cleanpen in high-traffic areas, such as offices
- A Cleanpen on every teacher’s desk
- A Cleanpen on every whiteboard for markers
- A Cleanstethoscope in the nurse’s office
Cleanint, 111 W. Cooperative Way, 888-715.0464, www.cleanint.com