- 18 January 2017
“People are careless when it comes to sun protection”, Larisa Kryuchkova, founder of Uvisio, knows what she is talking about, she once was careless too. But then she got skin cancer and went through all sorts of operations and procedures. “I want to create a device which helps you stay in the sun safely. Something you can put on in the morning and forget about all day, a bit like brushing your teeth.” She and her team, Uvisio, are participating in this edition of the HighTech XL program.
“All those operations and procedures were horrible and I do not wish anybody to go through all that. And after I got cured, my family stayed really worried, especially my mom. She had always been concerned about much time I could spend in the sun. One day I told her: ‘Okay, I will develop a device that tells you that I am safe’.”
The idea came to her in 2014 and it took her quite a while to find the team. But without Vlad Hayrapetyan and Frederic Lynker she couldn’t have built the device, she says. She met the two of them in Berlin; Vlad joined the team end of 2015 and Frederic during the summer. This December Yizhen Zhu joined the team. Now the team is complete including product, software, hardware and design competencies.
Larisa, 35, moved from Russia to Germany seven years ago. “I wanted to have solid business education and international experience. So I went for a MBA-program at ESMT in Berlin.” She got a job at Zalando and decided to stay. More than twenty years ago Vlad, 41, came to Berlin for his studies as well. He is originally from Armenia and went to the Technical University of Berlin. For 10 years he had been an IT and software engineer and after his MBA-program at HHL in Leipzig he changed his business profile into “business related”. Frederic, 27, studied electronic systems and computer science at TU Berlin. Yizhen, the youngest and most recent team member, studied industrial design in Technical University of Eindhoven.
“Berlin is home for software startups”, Larisa says. “During my MBA’s I wanted to know how the startups work because I have never worked in such an environment. I was working at Zalando and met a lot of people working in fashion startups but at that time I could not imagine doing that for long. You need to have some passion and you really have to push forward your idea even when times are rough.” Now she is a cofounder of a startup herself.
Her bad experience with skin cancer gave her the passion she needed. This passion and her vision inspired Vlad to come along. “I met Larissa at an IoT conference and she pitched me the idea. It did not take long to convince me, as this is a product that everyone needs.”
The idea behind the product is that it will have an impact on people’s behavior and attitudes towards sun exposure. Larisa: “We do not always see the sun, but it is there, and one of the consequences of uncontrolled sun exposure might be skin cancer. Skin cancer rates are rising all over the world and the sun protection we used before is not enough anymore.” According to statistics from the USA, every fifth person might develop skin cancer within a lifetime and 90% of the skin cancer cases are directly related to uncontrolled sun exposure. “One of the first questions the dermatologists asked me was if I use sunscreen or if I ever had been in Australia or have I been exposed to a lot of sunlight recently. We need to be more careful.”
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“Children have the highest risk”, tells Vlad, “The problem with this group is that skin cancer does not occur immediately, it is like a time bomb. The likelihood that a child might develop skin cancer at an older age increases while being exposed to a lot of sun during childhood. So with our product we want to concentrate on families with children.”
Uvisio’s product is a small wearable UV dosimeter which is attached on your clothes. It will monitor your sun exposure and an alarm will go off if you are in the sun too long. To determine the length of safe exposure time, there is a skin type test with questions about your appearance, how your skin reacts to sunburns, your stay in the sun in the last several months.
According to Larisa “it must be something like brushing your teeth. Just put it on in the morning and forget about it for the rest of the day”. Vlad adds: “We don’t want to create some niche product, but we want to create a product which will have a global impact. A product that can be found on every shelf, next to the sunscreen. Our idea is to create a product which is not only available but also affordable for everyone.”
“We saw a big interest in our product in Europe and are receiving good feedback in Eindhoven, when we talk to people here. It is really surprising that the people are so open for discussion, even on the street on a winter day. I only ask for a couple of minutes but in some cases we just talked and talked”, Larisa laughs. “We are now looking for families to talk to so we can develop our product together. Also we would like to get more feedback on the product from local dermatologists and medical experts.”
“We started in Berlin, which is good for prototyping, but when you need to prepare for production and work on the design, Eindhoven is really strong in this sense”, according to Vlad. “You really need to talk about your design with them and in this sense Eindhoven is really strong. You have the people here that know their way around hardware business, here we can get fully prepared for the market. I like this practical approach.”