The world simply needs a better sunscreen – one that does the basic job of blocking UVA and UVB, to be sure. Consumer surveys scream for a sunscreen that goes on silky smooth, does not make you look like a ghost, and one that stays on and keeps doing the job without needing to reapply every few hours to maintain the same level of protection (Who actually does that, btw?!). It’s also high time that we have a sunscreen that doesn’t make you squint when trying to figure out whether it is safe for babies and coral (Yeah, I am sure you noticed that even those so-called “reef friendly” sunscreens come with fine print).
The market is huge – $4B in the US alone – and we seem to be slathering more of it on ourselves each year. The regulatory tailwinds are favorable too. Congress is pressuring the FDA to streamline the approval process for new sunscreens. Tourist destinations with sensitive ecosystems such as Hawaii, Palau, and Thailand are banning chemical filters. Europe and Korea regulate sunscreens as cosmetics and are poised to approve safer, environmentally-friendly alternatives to existing sunscreens.
So why haven’t we seen a rush of VC funded startups trying to fill this white space? It might be because it’s really really difficult to make a sunscreen that actually meets these specifications, market requirements, customer wants and needs while being truly harmless to humans and totally safe for the environment. Enter Sóliome! We sat down with Micah Nelp, CEO of Sóliome, and asked him a few questions:
Why do you think now is the time to startup a company focused on bringing a new sunscreen to market?
First of all, we aren’t focused on bringing just another sunscreen to market. We are single-minded and hell bent on creating the world’s best sunscreen! It’s abundantly clear to us that now is the perfect time to do this: Everyone, yeah you too, should be wearing sunscreen every single day. But let’s be honest: there is no sunscreen today that makes you LOVE doing that. And if you happen to be doing it every day, you’re probably harming your own health and the planet’s health. It’s time to give consumers a much better choice.
There is dramatically rising awareness of not only the detrimental human health effects but also the environmental risk of current sunscreens. We are about to reach a tipping point on this and we will have our sunscreen products on the market, right when that happens.
Let’s back up a second. How did creating the world best sunscreen become your life mission?
Anthony, my co-founder, and I were searching for a mission where we could apply our combined scientific creativity to solve a major world problem. We definitely wanted to work on something that would contribute to human health and take full ownership of the problem, which pharma jobs didn’t offer. We also wanted to do our part in making our planet a better place. And, frankly, we think that every single sunscreen available in the market today sucks. We can do way better. And we think we have figured out how.
If I may be honest, you guys seem like two chemistry nerds. Why are you the best founders of a consumer-facing sunscreen company?
Well, we think the real secret to making the world’s best sunscreen, one that is both biologically safe and environmentally friendly, is core expertise in protein chemistry. The human eye is naturally protected from the sun through highly evolved peptide chemistry. Our core technology is based on this biomimicry, bottling complex chemistry in a sunscreen bottle. Anthony and I are intensely curious chemists. Our idea of a great day is when we have iterated on synthetic chemistry approaches to create a new prototype using totally safe, protein-derived ingredients.
The IndieBio program is drawing to a close. What is next and how do you plan to scale?
In these last couple of months of the program, we have exceeded the cost target (and therefore the expected margin target) we set for ourselves. We are already at COGS equivalent to that of fully scaled, on-market sunscreens. Anthony and I are so passionate about this specific change we want to see in this world that we will hire the right marketing and business rockstars to make our vision a reality.