Tyler Church Haggstrom was riding on his bike a handful of years ago on a sunny day when he realized he was beginning to form a sunburn. Haggstrom had applied sunscreen before he left home, but didn’t have any pockets to keep the sunscreen in and hadn’t brought a wallet with which to purchase a bottle. He didn’t have a way to reapply and knew that getting burnt was going to damage his skin.

It was then he had an idea. What if sunscreen was available for free around town the way hand sanitizing stations are? He joined forces with his friends Allen Starnes and Gabe Valente to form Sun Shield, a company that provides free outdoor automatic sunscreen dispensers.

The three, all previous attendants of Santa Monica College, are on a mission to lower the rates of skin cancer by offering sunscreen to the public for free.

“We saw a need in the marketplace and our campaign is to defeat melanoma,” Allen Starnes said. “And the key to stopping this disease is through prevention with sunscreen. And we completely believed we could help with prevention.”

Sun Shield’s product has been available at the Special Olympics World Games, LA Aids Walk, Aids Life Cycle, Ciclavia, and many other events in the Los Angeles area.

“We’ve gone through many different variations of prototypes we’ve developed to see if people would respond well to this. And people love these dispensers. So it was nice to see positive reactions. Now we are putting our product on Kickstarter to help us get through manufacturing,” Starnes said.

Sun Shield has also partnered with the Jeff Dulude Melanoma Foundation to achieve their ultimate goal of getting dispensers not just in Los Angeles, but across the country.

The founder of the organization, Claudia Dulude, was especially happy to get involved with Sun Shield as she has personally been affected by skin cancer.

“My husband died from over exposure to the sun, without question,” Dulude said. “He probably never put sunblock on in his life. And that is why I started this foundation two years ago. And as a private foundation we saw Allen’s product out there, providing free sunscreen to people in points where we need them, and just thought it was great and we were more than willing to help.”

Starnes explained how the company plans to run their business after completing manufacturing through the money they gain from crowd-funding and the foundation.

“Our company, how it works is, to keep it free to the public many different venues, they purchase the machines from us and purchase the free refills as well. And for locations that can’t afford to have these machines there, we will offer sponsorship and signage that can go with the machine. It will help company’s say ‘We want this for our city, our advertisement will put our message on your guys’ sign, and will also help you spread yours.’”

At the time of publication, Sun Shield had raised $20,431 of its $50,000 goal through 51 backers on Kickstarter. Their campaign will run through Jan. 2.

To visit Sun Shield’s Kickstarter page, go to https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/sunshield/sun-shield-the-worlds-most-innovative-sunscreen-di.

jennifer@www.smdp.com