Med tech startup takes $1M prize from Verizon for eye exam device

Two medical device companies won first and fifth prize Wednesday in the Verizon Powerful Answers contest. The co-founders of Smart Vision Labs Yaopeng Zhou and Marc Albanese won the first prize of $1 million in the healthcare category of the contest. They met in graduate school when they were building a tabletop version of an […]

Two medical device companies won first and fifth prize Wednesday in the Verizon Powerful Answers contest.

The co-founders of Smart Vision Labs Yaopeng Zhou and Marc Albanese won the first prize of $1 million in the healthcare category of the contest. They met in graduate school when they were building a tabletop version of an eye exam device. Their new product is a smartphone-sized version. The Smart Aberrometer uses a phone’s flashlight and camera, combined with an add-on microlens array, to analyze refractive errors. This will make it faster, easier and cheaper for people to get their vision evaluated. The ultimate goal is to get a device in every home in the developing world.

Zhao said that his inspiration for the company came from the fact that 500 million people in developing countries lose their vision because they don’t have eye glasses.

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A Deep-dive Into Specialty Pharma

A specialty drug is a class of prescription medications used to treat complex, chronic or rare medical conditions. Although this classification was originally intended to define the treatment of rare, also termed “orphan” diseases, affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the US, more recently, specialty drugs have emerged as the cornerstone of treatment for chronic and complex diseases such as cancer, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.

“Some nonprofit groups actually travel with a backpack of glasses, so the healthcare worker could take the measurement and then get a pair of glasses right away,” he said.

Zhao said that he plans to launch the product in Rwanda because the country has a population of 10.5 million but only 14 vision specialists to treat vision problems. He plans to use the money to hire more engineers.

There are other startups working on diagnostic devices for smartphones, but I do not know of a company addressing warfarin use. Factor 14 is designing a new sensor to make it easier to collect a blood sample at home. The device would then transmit the data to the cloud. An algorithm would analyze the data and alert a doctor depending on the results. The San Francisco team of engineers – Ryan Bloom, Suresh Gurunathan and Raman Talwar – won $285,000 in the competition. They are using proprietary technology developed at the University of Michigan.

The other three winners were:

 

  • Seratis – $850,000, a comprehensive communication system to make it easier for doctors and other providers to understand each patient’s caregiver network.
  • Frenome – $700,000, a system to use molecular analysis in a doctor’s office.
  • Solar Ear – $500,000, a cheap and portable system to do hearing tests in developing countries.

About 1,300 entries were submitted. Five finalists each won a monetary prize, with the first-place winner taking home $1 million. Lowell McAdam, the CEO of Verizon, awarded the prizes at CES 2014 in Las Vegas.

“We saw the wave of innovation we hoped for,” he said. The contest was announced a year ago at CES. McAdam said that the company helped applicants write a business case for each idea to help both the entrepreneurs and Verizon understand how the ideas would benefit communities around the world.

The top 30 entries went to San Francisco to present to the final round of judges. Fifteen of those groups made it to Las Vegas.
The other two categories were sustainability and education. A company making it easier to support solar projects with small donations won $1 million from Verizon.
Tiny Tap won the top prize in education with its plan to build a collection of educational games built by individuals instead of corporations.

McAdam said the groups will keep their IP and that Verizon will help the winners commercialize their products. A second competition will be announced later this year.