Innovative Device Primed to Jump into the Battle Against Skin Cancer

by David Dean

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Entrepreneur David Cohen embodies the mantra that building a successful company is more a marathon than a sprint; in fact, he’s in the midst of an eight-week training program for a half-marathon he’s participating in along with his fiancée. His efforts to stay healthy while running for a good cause mirrors his company Voxelight -- with a mission to empower people with light -- and its development of the innovative Sunscreenr™ device.

Designed as a lightweight, easy-to-use handheld consumer product that enables people to see if they’ve applied sunscreen properly, Sunscreenr was an idea developed by Cohen and his Voxelight co-founder Jon Meyer several years ago after watching a family member struggle with skin cancer. Meyer, the idea guy, partnered with Cohen, with his PhD in Biochemistry and product development experience, and Sunscreenr was born.

“We looked at the IP [intellectual property] around the concept and decided it was something we could protect,” Cohen said, adding that initial market research showed no similar products available at a customer retainable price point.

The product’s concept was simple enough: viewing themselves or others through Sunscreenr, individuals could see in otherwise invisible ultraviolet (UV) light and easily identify where sunscreen shows up on the body as a distinctly darker shade than the rest of the skin. This allows for easy targeting of areas where sunscreen has worn thin or were missed altogether when first applying. In building the device, Cohen and Meyer combined a special filter that removes all light except the part of the spectrum that sunscreen absorbs; a custom lens made from special materials; and a sensor that responds to UV light with proprietary image processing algorithms which is shown on a screen built into the waterproof device.  Sunscreenr also can record and playback a short video allowing for someone to check themselves if another person isn’t around.

As cool as the product sounded, Cohen and Meyer weren’t sure the world would be so accepting of such a new technology related to personal health and well being. With the knowledge that most people only apply 25-50 percent of the sunscreen they should and the fact there are 1 Million cases of skin cancer per year in the U.S. alone, the partners decided it was important to move forward, albeit in an unorthodox way.

Startup TechWire 2017 Sponsorships Now Available“Instead of putting together a traditional business plan and jumping into fundraising, we launched a Kickstarter campaign to get a look at market validation,” Cohen explained.

The response was positive, especially from an unexpected source: the television show Shark Tank, where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to five successful high-profile business people and try to convince them to invest money in their idea.

“Four days after launching our Kickstarter campaign we got a call from the producers who invited us onto the show. We never intended to do that type of thing so early, but it was an incredible process to see it on the inside,” Cohen said.

The pitch worked, with Sunscreenr getting a handshake deal on-air.  Off-air, the deal did not close, which is not uncommon; according to Forbes, about 43 percent of the Shark Tank winners the magazine surveyed said their deals didn’t come to fruition. This has been attributed to a variety of circumstances ranging from winners receiving term sheets with unappealing clauses to sharks changing terms or pulling out of agreements altogether.

“We ended up spending a lot of time with them trying to get the deal closed which we could have spent elsewhere, and a lot of people saw us win and think we already have investment dollars which causes some confusion,” Cohen explained.

Still, the experience generated a lot of visibility globally from potential distributors, large sunscreen companies, and organizations like the Melanoma Research Foundation, which reached out to Cohen and Meyer.

Immediate plans for Suncreenr include presenting at the upcoming CED Life Science Conference in Raleigh and various other startup events, getting the word out and networking with strategic partners and investors. The product itself is close to being done, with engineering coming together in the form of fully functional prototypes and a commercial version that is 90 percent complete.

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