Waterloo startup Suncayr to shine with UV sensitive ink
Canada’s Dyson Award winner nears commercialization of sunburn prevention pen.
WATERLOO, Ont. — Even when Rachel Pautler slathered on handfuls of sunscreen she still got burnt at the beach. Being fair-skinned certainly has its setbacks in the summertime but Pautler wasn’t going to settle for the shade.
“I’m really vigilant about sunscreen, but I still find myself being sunburnt,” said the co-founder and CEO of Suncayr, based in Waterloo, Ont. “It’s a real pain point.”
So Pautler and her team created a UV-sensitive marker you apply before your sunscreen. The ink goes on your skin clear but when the marking changes to purple, that means it’s time to reapply protection. As they see it, Suncayr is useful for anyone who loves the sun, but especially for parents trying to keep tabs on the sensitive skin of their children.
Burns are one of the seemingly inevitable dangers of summer and maintaining the right amount of sunscreen is a guessing game. While several companies have launched products to monitor UV exposure, generally the results have been mixed.
French company Netatmo is selling a bracelet called June that measures UV rays through a faux jewel, which sends the data to a phone app. It sells for US$130 online. Others have tried simpler versions of a UV wristband that leave a tan line and don’t necessarily provide an accurate measurement of your skin’s protection.
Some parents have settled for a more basic UV sticker applied directly to skin, but when their kids wade into water, it can fall off. Suncayr thinks their marker has the potential to appeal to a broader market than any of these other ideas.
After nearly two years of work — and winning special recognition from the 2014 Dyson Awards — the company says it is in the process of taking the idea to the masses, applying for the necessary approvals from Health Canada and preparing for a pre-sale launch online in September.
It would be a fast rise for a startup that began in a classroom at the University of Waterloo in 2013. Pautler and several engineering classmates were assigned to invent a technology that solved a problem in their daily lives, part of a major class project for their final year.
After much brainstorming, the group decided to tackle the frustration of accidentally taking their tan too far. They drafted several ideas including a skin patch that changed colour in the sun. Quickly they decided wearing a sticker that looked similar to a nicotine patch wasn’t ideal.
“A skin patch is kind of gross, so (we decided), ‘Let’s make something you would actually like to use,’” Pautler said.
The team, which includes fellow founders Chad Sweeting, Andrew Martinko, Hayden Soboleski, Rachel Pautler and Derek Jouppi, narrowed the application down to ink. The appeal, they say, is that drawing on your skin can be fun. Parents can make it a game with their children, rather than just another step in preparation for the beach, they thought.
Early tests have shown the creators that parents generally agree, they said.
Last year, the group began pitching Suncayr on the beaches of southern Ontario by asking families about their experiences with the sun and handing out freezies to their kids in return.
Throughout the winter they put their findings to work in university labs and submitted the chemical components to Canadian regulators. They’re now waiting for the green light from Health Canada before they can launch Suncayr online.
Pautler says the money raised through presales will go towards the first manufacturing run with plans to send the product to customers early next year.
By summer 2016, Pautler expects Suncayr will be on shelves in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. Several local stores have already signed on, she says, which bodes well for a broader expansion across Ontario throughout next year.
Suncayr will focus mainly on selling to parents with children between the ages of three and 10, but the founders expect to take the idea to a broader customer base, particularly in sunny areas of the United States.
Pautler says it’s hard to imagine that one day soon parents may be drawing on their kid’s arms with Suncayr markers.
“It’s a cool idea to see something I’ve built that people can buy,” she said. “I just want to walk into a store and see it on the shelf.”