Founder Friday

Shade's Emmanuel Dumont

Welcome to Founder Friday, where we’ll learn a little about the people behind some of the companies doing their thing at Highway1.

Today’s founder is Emmanuel Dumont of Shade.

Autoimmune diseases are unsettling and scary; your immune system’s supposed to protect you, not actively work toward your destruction. But as long as you don’t set them off, you’ll be fine, right? Sufferers of celiac disease know to avoid gluten, for instance. But what if you had one that was set off by sunlight, like lupus?

Yes, lupus.

It turns out diseases like lupus can be triggered by ultraviolet (UV) radiation, but getting a handle on exactly how much — it can vary by person and dosage — is far from easy. That’s what Shade is for.

In founder and CEO Emmanuel Dumont’s words, “Shade is the first low-cost, accurate, and wearable ultraviolet dosimeter designed to help users manage their ultraviolet exposure in relation to their health.”

You might have guessed the idea for Shade didn’t spring out of a boardroom brainstorming session; Dumont holds a PhD in biophysics from Columbia and has been published in Nature. “Shade is a spin off of my research at the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute,”

Dumont explains, “where I developed its fundamentals at the intersection of technology, data science, and personalized medicine. The idea stems from autoimmune diseases where the immune system wakes up without a clear signal of infection. Interestingly, one of the triggering signals behind autoimmune diseases is ultraviolet radiation. UV radiation affects, in a complex and personalized way, patients who fear going outside. With Shade, they can finally understand how to keep their immune system under control.”

When Dumont and his team were getting started, they found Shade difficult to pitch to investors. “We were exploring two highly specialized markets that took five minutes of explanations before our audience could understand their pain,” he recalls. “We had to find a way to connect with them much more quickly.”

After a little tweaking, they found it: “We went back to something most of us have experienced: sunburns and sunscreen. Nobody likes wearing sunscreen, but we do it because we think it protects us against skin cancer. However, the efficiency of sunscreen is currently being disputed within the medical community, as skin cancer incidence has been increasing steadily over the past 30 years. This opening allows us to get the audience interested in UV measurement and its applications in pharmaceutical phototoxicity and disease management.”

It clearly worked: Shade was accepted into Highway1’s spring 2015 class, with the goal of reaching design for manufacture. Of course, that’s not the only thing they’re learning. “I thought doing a startup was Brownian motion, but there is actually a roadmap — and Highway1 crystallizes this,” Dumont remarks.

And after they graduate? “Down the road,” Dumont predicts, “in 10 years, we intend to be the leader in photobiology and to understand how skin cancer, the major form of cancer in the US, is triggered by UV radiation.” For now, they’ll be happy to help sufferers of autoimmune disease step into the sun without fear. First up: lupus patients.

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