Southland startup competitor Shade wants to be your sun smart angel, telling you to seek cover

By James Robinson , written on June 11, 2014

From The News Desk

It’s summer. You’re outside. It’s hot. Good times, right? You’re reading a book. Or talking to friends. You forgot sunscreen. You didn’t quite realize it, but you got burnt. You retire inside and it gets worse as you cool off. In isolation, it’s not the best thing to do to yourself. But if you’re a little less lucky maybe you might have a sun allergy. And letting a child get burned? Forget about it.

The standard joke in mobile software is, “Oh, there’s an app for that.” In connected devices the mantra has morphed into, “There’s a device for that.” Counting steps? Check. Improving your posture? Check. Helping you quit smoking? A big, cancer-fighting check.

Letting you know when it’s time to get out of the sun and seek shade?

Of course.

Meet Shade.

Currently in a startup incubator at Cornell University, the company is the brainchild of CEO Em Dumont, a Columbia University educated biophysicist, and Chief Medical Officer and digital health specialist Geoff Appelboom.

The company got underway when Appelboom, who has experience in the quantified health space, reached out to Dumont to talk about problems with photosensitivity, and the two began brainstorming. The problem they wanted to address was how varied the levels of response are to sunburn. As the two explain to me on a conference call from New York, some of us just get a sunburn. For some of us the sunburn is more severe, and can come hand in hand with a rash and a severe headache.  More severely, UV rays can be a trigger for different diseases and serious allergic responses.

To look at, Shade’s device isn’t much. A small transparent disc that catches UV rays, 25mm in diameter, that be clipped on to the wrist. The data is collected in app that is always running in the background on your phone. People using Shade answer questions about themselves and record symptoms in the app, which puts added stress on the company to get its algorithms perfect. The company has been sweating over these through clinical studies with two hospitals now.

But a small device could have big impact. Skin cancer is by far the most common form of cancer in America, with over 2 million people diagnosed each year.

Having gone through several iterations, Shade is looking to launch a crowdfunding campaign in July to raise between $50,000 and $100,000 so it can ship the device early next year. Dumont wants this first public push to target children’s skin health as a way to get the company's name out there.

Bounding on stage at Southland, both Dumont and Appelboom were looking forward to getting away from talking to scientists and starting to bring Shade in front of the masses.

“It’s time for us to go out of the lab and get our message on the consumer audience. We’re not there for the money. We want to engage. We talk to too many dermatologists.”

Dumont's pitch made dual emphasis on the nourishing, positive impacts of sunlight on happiness and health and the risks that come hand in hand with that. The company had recently been awarded a $100,000 research grant for two clinical studies, and Dumont talked about how the technology could one day be worked into other wearable devices.

General Catalyst's Kevin Colleran recognized the medical potential, but wondered about the consumer application. Revolution Ventures' Tige Savage questioned Dumont on the regulatory demands. There was talk among the judges about form factor and personalization, also.

Jumpstart Foundry's Vic Gatto was unimpressed. "I don't get it," he said.

"Absolutely, and that's why our device is not for you," Dumont said, to broad laughs.

Win or lose, Shade was a conversation starter. The next step? Turning that curiosity into a market.

[photo by Maggie Brauer]