The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Edward Fitzpatrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s Ocean State Innovators conversation is with Allyson E. Cote, founder and CEO of Ocean State Shields.
Question: What is Ocean State Shields, when was it founded, and where is it based?
Answer: Ocean State Shields was launched, quite literally, in two weeks in April 2020 here in Providence. We are a team of veteran entrepreneurs who are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with a curated portfolio of innovations ranging from polycarbonate and flexible panels, countertop protectors, credit/debit card shields, and complete kits of groundbreaking antimicrobial treatments from our partner SD Labs.
I was lucky to tap my co-founder, Todd Thomas, who has been a huge part of the Makerspace with his group, Tinker/RI. What helps set us apart is our ability to rapidly produce custom protective gear based on customer needs. And we can do it affordably, using other local manufacturers as our primary supply chain.
Given our vantage point as established business people within the Providence ecosystem, when the pandemic hit, we immediately mobilized to help other Rhode Island and Massachusetts businesses reopen safely with a non-toxic and “green” solution.
Q: What are Ocean State Shields’ main products and what is your target market?
A: Our line is growing rapidly. We’re able to offer everything from traditional barriers to a newly developed line of flexible polycarbonate roll dividers using Department of Transportation-approved materials for school buses and public transportation.
Something we’re very excited about is our service where our team can treat the entire interior of an office, home, or vehicle with the extraordinarily effective SD Pro product using electrostatic sprayers. This thorough application, professionally rendered by our licensed and trained commercial cleaning partners, can help protect surfaces for up to a year.
Our target market is everyone: Businesses, universities, schools, and residences — really anywhere people congregate.
Q: What is the SD 90 surface coating and how does it differ from other similar products on the market?
A: In cleaning with bleach and other wet disinfectants, there are disadvantages such as the constant need for reapplication or damage they can cause to surfaces and the environment. SD Labs has engineered a non-toxic people-, pet-, and food-safe paired-product line that includes SDVO, a hospital-grade disinfectant, and SD 90 and SDPRO, both a wide-spectrum antimicrobial coating that adheres to a clean surface and retains its efficacy for up to 90 days or a year, respectively.
The antimicrobial mechanism is different from many traditional products. To get technical, using its “nano-sword structure,” the compound attracts and then ruptures microbial cells. Normal wear and use of a surface will not impact protection, nor does maintenance cleaning. Because it actually bonds to the surface it’s applied to, it has to wear down. It is not a paint either, as it is nano-thin, odorless, crystal clear, and undetectable by normal viewing.
The core active ingredient is an EPA-registered antimicrobial that inhibits the growth of surface damaging and odor causing bacteria, mold, mildew, and algae. It is considered a “treated article” in the United States and is registered as a long-lasting disinfectant in several international markets.
Q: What is your prior experience with startups focused on public health?
A: I do love the Rhode Island startup scene. It’s the most fun you’ll ever have working. I have been so blessed during my career to have been a founding member of Shape Up, Inc. — now Virgin Pulse — and Maternova Inc. I’ve always been active in promoting innovative public health solutions.
I’m particularly proud of Maternova. I co-founded that back in 2012 with my partner Meg, and we pioneered a new business model identifying and helping to accelerate the commercialization and distribution of some amazing lifesaving technologies for mothers and newborns around the world. It was very much a labor of love, and our efforts have helped save the lives of more than 500,000 women and children globally.
I have always wanted to launch a company that would directly positively impact the lives of people here. Given the current public health crisis, which appears to be long lasting, this is the next logical step in my entrepreneurial trajectory.
Q: Do you know of other businesses emerging in Rhode Island in response to the coronavirus pandemic?
A: Absolutely. A great example of some rapid response solutions is the virtual “COVID Cohort” starting up at Social Enterprise Greenhouse in Providence. They are working with 15 emerging companies who are laser focused on the COVID-19 crisis. Additionally, several existing businesses made a rapid pivot in their manufacturing to produce personal protective equipment, such as face masks, in record time. We’re just one of a great group of innovators. Thankfully, we already have significant traction and clients.
Q: What is the biggest benefit and biggest challenge to launching a startup in Rhode Island?
A: The biggest benefit is easily the support system which exists. Rhode Island has no shortage in incubators, co-working spaces, and amazing organizations such as Venture Cafe, which works tirelessly to provide a high level of visibility and support for anyone who is looking to chase a dream. We also have RI Inno, which is amazing at covering all the local startup news and events and aggregating it into one concise and fun resource. The biggest challenge remains capital funding and an active investor community. There is no shortage of brilliance happening in Rhode Island. We need to do a better job of keeping it here.