The Eye Scan App is a tool for optometrists that assesses eyes via picture.

Sight4All's TESA promises a novel method for generating info about both eye refraction error and eye misalignment through the use of algorithms instead of infrared light or a just smaller machine, says Steve Wallace, president and CEO of Sight4All.

“We have simply said, ‘No, we're skipping all of that. We're not going to compress the optics. We're not going to shine light in the back of the eye. We're just going to take an entirely new approach,' ” says Wallace.

Not only is TESA (The Eye Scan App) advantageous to eye doctors, Wallace says that airports are also interested in the tool, which can measure eye alignment to be used on fighter pilots to make sure eyes don't become misaligned while looking straight down.

Wallace says TESA has attracted interest from big names in the industry such as Essilor and Luxottica, but he and his team at Sight4All are still working to perfect the tech.

“We don't know whether we are going to get it to a point where we feel like we can peddle our wares to someone else,” he says. “We hope so.”

Ohio State University has been with Sight4All every step of the way. In fact, the inventor, Melissa Bailey, is an associate professor of optometry at OSU. Those at Sight4All wanted to give back to their alma mater by gifting the university a portion of the company.

“A lot of people try to work the university down; we actually went in the opposite direction,” says Wallace. “Despite the success or lack thereof, Ohio State has been delightfully engaged in the technology. As opposed to it being just a potential revenue source, it's been a potential feather in their cap if we can make this whole thing work. It's been a great relationship.”

Will TESA achieve startup success?

“Any significant improvement in accuracy and ease of use will be of obvious interest to providers. However, the typical difficulty of having a new medical device being sold into an established installed base will likely make the sales and adoption cycle quite long unless there is truly marked improvements by TESA versus the current equipment. That said, the substitution of algorithms for mechanical devices is going to be a clear winner where current economic realities prevent the purchase of expensive equipment.”

Potential Investor: Dan Finkelman, angel investor; managing director, Mulberry Street Consulting, LLC

“There have been a number of new vision-related technologies introduced into the market in recent years, but [TESA] is unique. It has potential to positively impact the delivery of vision care because it is designed as a supplemental tool for eye doctors to integrate into a comprehensive exam. … Its non-invasive design also provides doctors with additional means to evaluate infants, young children and other non-communicative patients.”

Industry Expert: Keith Kerns, executive director, Ohio Optometric Association

A Prescription for Startup Growth

Bill Baumel, managing director of the Ohio Innovation Fund, has a unique take on Ohio's growing startup ecosystem as a successful Silicon Valley vet formerly with RWI Ventures. He includes all of Ohio in his work and in his mind when he thinks about this region.

“Next to Silicon Valley, [Ohio] has one of the strongest, if not the strongest, angel networks,” he said at an Association for Corporate Growth event in January in Columbus. But he also thinks that the region comprised of Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati can be more appropriately compared to Austin or Seattle in terms of where it's headed. Although some have likened it to Boston or Silicon Valley, Baumel says it will take a very long time to become a region like those.

Yet Ohio can take one important lesson from the Valley: adopt a more ambitious mindset. Baumel says “there is more consternation than there should be” about exits, for instance. Silicon Valley, he explains, was built on exits, with every successful company having “10-15 spin-offs” started by members of the initial company prior to acquisition.