Skip to content

How This Ann Arbor Startup Uses Data To Keep Hospitals Clean

How This Ann Arbor Startup Uses Data To Keep Hospitals Clean

When you think of a sterile environment, you might first conjure up an image of a hospital. But the gross reality is that many of our healthcare facilities are not as clean as we’d hope them to be. 

This was something Sarah Beatty discovered while working as a medical laboratory scientist at healthcare facilities in Michigan. She was working on a process improvement project for a hospital, and while stationed in a nursing unit, she witnessed a healthcare professional going from room to room, without washing their hands. In this case, the provider touched the bare leg of a patient with C. difficile (a diarrheal disease associated with antibiotic use that produces highly infectious bacteria that spreads easily within healthcare facilities) and then touched the hands of the patient in the next room.

“I remember feeling completely shocked but also paralyzed because it actually wasn’t in my power at that moment to do or say anything,” says Sarah. 

She alerted the medical leadership and the team was able to identify a couple of root causes to the problem, but a spark had been lit for Sarah. 

“It really opened my eyes to the physical healthcare environment and the cleaning processes that are happening that actually influence the ways that infection spreads through facilities,” Sarah says. 

In this case it was an incident of hand washing (or lack thereof), but it could be a number of things including how well the HVAC system is functioning, when the last time somebody scrubbed and cleaned the drains was, or how well a bathroom handrail is wiped down (spoiler alert: it’s usually the most contaminated thing in healthcare facility based on Culturewell’s data).

sarah beattySo Sarah went back to her laboratory career, but medical laboratories only work on human samples, not environmental samples from healthcare facilities. After a few career changes into laboratory management, consulting, and healthcare administration, Sarah couldn’t get the idea out of her head. She combined her experience in environmental microbiology and diagnostic microbiology and put them together, innovating in a way that created a service and product that was uniquely fit for healthcare that could prevent infections and break the chain of transmission before it ever starts. 

Sarah Beatty, Founder of Culturewell


“I felt like it was a responsibility — I had to go and do this because for some reason no one else had, and maybe, just maybe, I was the right person,” says Sarah. 

So she founded Culturewell, an Ann Arbor-based startup reducing healthcare-associated infections by sampling healthcare surfaces, testing, and providing data-driven insights to healthcare administrators across the United States.


The Power of Data

The U.S. healthcare industry spends on average $31 billion a year treating and preventing infections acquired in healthcare facilities. These are preventable but often devastating infections that cause significant harm and sometimes death. If you acquire a skin infection during your knee replacement surgery, it could keep you in the hospital longer, spike your medical bill, cause you to miss work, and maybe lose your job, assuming you don’t lose your life.


Culturewell works with healthcare facilities as an essential part of their cleaning compliance program to regularly sample, test, and provide evidence-based insights for continuous improvement. Combining the power of both a laboratory and a data platform, Culturewell uses industry-leading, innovative technology and methods to deliver insights that can help facilities optimize their cleaning and infection prevention programs. Clients have a dashboard to view quantitative risk trends, summaries, and can see heat maps of the facility that show exactly what types of germs are growing where, how many there are, and the risks those germs present. 

Additionally, Culturewell anonymizes the data from all of their clients to help facilities have solid benchmarks. They can see what germs or cleaning issues are common in their region (for example, Florida’s humidity often presents substantial mold problems), to help clients combat the spread of infectious diseases before they begin. 

“Culturewell is the first technology to meet those needs in a way that allows healthcare facilities to fundamentally change how they do cleaning compliance,” says Sarah. 

The insights have the power to go beyond cleaning. This data can help facilities justify better budgets for quality improvements, or even be used to help build better healthcare infrastructure to keep the environment clean. Let’s go back to the bathroom handrail, for example. They’re usually roughed up to improve grip. But that also makes it easier for germs to stick to the material and makes it harder to clean. Providing this data insight and trends could help build hospitals with better materials that prevent the spread of diseases, which can help save lives. 

“I knew that I had to build a company that was based on a type of mission like this because I knew I didn’t want to widen the ‘infection gap,’” Sarah says. 

Statistically, white people of a higher socioeconomic status generally benefit from cleaner healthcare facilities and are less likely to get healthcare-associated infections. People who don’t usually have access to high quality care because of the place and environment they live in are often more likely to have multiple comorbidities. The environmental factors plus the wellness of the individual make these people more likely to get a healthcare-associated infection. Institutional bias and racism (both unintentional and intentional) can be a cause as well. For example, the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. is the highest for Black women: 69.9 per 100,000 live births, which is almost three times the rate for white women. 

Sarah says that hospitals have so many diversity measures and metrics and many ways of looking at how they are creating a positive effect on the patients and communities they serve. However they’re not always looking at some of these key and core components that show that they might have institutional bias within their facility that’s actually harming certain patients.

“We hope to leverage our business and our platform to get people to start thinking about these factors, because there are easy interventions that can be made that truly make a difference in people’s lives,” says Sarah. 

Culturewell’s commitment to creating a positive impact in the healthcare industry and on people’s lives is a mission Sarah has doubled down on. Culturewell is a Public Benefit Corporation, meaning that purpose is a part of the company’s DNA. They are also a pending Certified B Corp. A portion of Culturewell’s profits go towards reducing healthcare disparities through advocacy, and participating in sustainability initiatives that are aligned with their mission.


Spreading Purpose, Not Germs

Since its founding in 2021, Culturewell has grown its footprint in Ann Arbor and across the country. 

“I don’t think Culturewell would have been successful without the support I received in Ann Arbor,” says Sarah. 

They went through Ann Arbor SPARK’s entrepreneurial boot camp program and received some funding through it. Culturewell also won funding through Eastern Michigan University’s entrepreneurship certificate program and received a $25,000 grant through a pitch competition. This funding helped Sarah bootstrap the company and allowed her to buy the equipment she needed to open her lab and sustainably scale her business.

Most recently in November 2023, Culturewell raised a round of venture capital that will be used to further grow the company’s footprint. Sarah’s team has grown over the last few years and they plan to do some hiring later this year to bring on more sales representatives, infection preventionists, and a laboratory manager. 

In August, Culturewell’s first enterprise customer will hit their two-year anniversary  with the company. It’s a milestone Sarah and the team are really excited about.

“It just shows that we really mean it when we say we become an essential part of the cleaning compliance program,” Sarah says. “The fact that we can do this and we can do it so rapidly, it’s changing how folks from directors of environmental services to directors of infection prevention are doing their jobs every day. It’s having a positive impact and lowering the level of risk for the spread of infectious diseases.”

Which is ultimately helping keep people healthy and save lives. 



Get the best opportunities sent straight to your inbox Sign up for our weekly newsletter and never miss the next best opportunity