Inside Ocean State Shields, One of RI’s Most Innovative COVID-Era Companies

The local business is creating antimicrobial products that help small businesses keep people safe.

Ocean State Shields came through in the clutch for Rhode Island’s small businesses. The local startup launched in April by co-founders Allyson Cote and Todd Thomas in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The partners immediately got to work calculating what local restaurants and other businesses might need to continue operating safely during the pandemic and they figured out ways to have those items manufactured in Rhode Island.

They created a package for restaurants to continue operating outdoors in the winter, which includes a ten-foot in diameter heated igloo that is made with fire safety-compliant materials. “We are the only local provider that I know of that can actually get the igloos that make fire code,” says Cote.


Courtesy of Ocean State Shields/Portrait photograph by Hillary Joyce.

The igloo packages come with four non-electric, non-chemical, non-toxic heating cushions and a heated table skirt, and restaurants can also order heated vests to keep restaurant servers and staff warm when temperatures dip as well as heated serving trays, antimicrobial credit card sleeves and FDA-approved, hospital-grade and long-lasting disinfectant lotion.


Courtesy of Ocean State Shields/Portrait photograph by Hillary Joyce.

As part of the “Take It Outside” Initiative, Rhode Island Commerce recently awarded Ocean State Shields an $80,000 grant to create the igloo packages free of charge for restaurants that applied. Cote and Thomas had so many applications, they had to start a waitlist. They expect to have fifty to seventy-five clients and make more than 150 igloos for the winter dining season.

Cote has been an entrepreneur in Rhode Island for a long time and founded three startups, most recently the Rhode Island Monthly 2016 Rhode Islander of the Year award-winning company Maternova, which she left just before the pandemic hit. She also did some consulting work for SD Labs in Connecticut, which creates antimicrobial, surface-adherent coatings globally and has been instrumental in Ocean State Shields. “I had just exited there and it was a weird case of timing because when the pandemic hit, I already had the mindset that I wanted my next venture to focus on the community here,” Cote says. “I went to the founder of SD Labs and told him I had this crazy idea for a company and asked if he would let me run with Massachusetts and Rhode Island and the products.”

She knew the pandemic was just getting started and businesses would have to adapt. “I said, ‘We’re in trouble and this is going to get really ugly for a lot of small businesses.’ Without a second’s hesitation, he said yes.”

Cote got the approval to launch a line of antimicrobial products locally and teamed up with her partner, architect and engineer Todd Thomas, who founded Tinker Bristol. They worked together to launch Ocean State Shields in less than two weeks. “Everything was done out of pocket and we were able to get a lot of traction early on, which was great,” Cote says, adding that early adopters included Blue Plate Diner, Diego’s, Roger Williams University, Sprout Coworking and Rhode Island Yoga Center.

They partnered with Rhode Island manufacturers S and S Fabric Products in Portsmouth and Lumetta Lighting and Laird Plastics, both out in Warwick, to make the products. “All of the products, including all of our panels, are coming right out of the Ocean State,” Cote says. “Not only are we providing a superior product, but we’re helping keep our neighbors in business, too.”