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Smartphone Eye Exam Company Raises $6M in Venture Funds

Vision exam with SVOne

Vision exam with SVOne device (Smart Vision Labs Inc.)

24 June 2015. Smart Vision Labs Inc., a two-year-old company developing vision exam technology that works on smartphones, raised $6.1 million in its first venture funding round. Financing for the New York City enterprise was led by Techstars Ventures, with contributions from Heritage Group, Connectivity Capital, and Red Sea Ventures.

The company’s technology aims to expand the availability of vision exams to people worldwide with uncorrected refractive or focusing errors, but without ready access to optometrists. Smart Vision Labs cites data that even in the U.S. half of the people wearing corrective lenses do not get annual eye exams as recommended by American Optometric Association.

A typical eye exam includes tests for refractive errors that prevent eyes from properly focusing, resulting in nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism — conditions requiring eyeglasses, contact lenses, or lasik surgery to correct. The tests require individuals to look through a series of lenses where they focus on light from the examiner’s retinoscope, and respond verbally to indicate when the clearest vision is achieved. In some cases automated equipment can determine focusing performance in early stages of the test, followed by refinements with the individuals’ verbal responses.

Smart Vision Labs’ technology is based on wavefront aberrometry that measures the way light travels through the eye, and identifies and measures specific errors in refraction, a technology also employed to identify refractive errors in corrective vision surgery. The company says this technology is superior to conventional eye exams, since it uses objective measurements rather than relying on subjective evaluations and responses from the people being examined.

Smart Vision Labs’ lead product is SVOne, an auto-refractor measurement device attached to an Apple iPhone 5s, designed for handheld use by a clinician. The company says its tests and studies show SVOne measures refraction errors as well as desktop units within 1 percent, and can return results in about 5 seconds per eye. The small size and fast results, says the company, make the device ideal for remote areas and in tests with children.

SVOne is also being tested in the field, particularly in low resource countries where optometrists are scarce. The company is partnering with local entrepreneurial organizations, both for-profit and not-for-profit, on the ground to conduct eye tests in remote villages in Mexico, Haiti, Guatemala, and Dominican Republic. In March 2015, Smart Vision Labs began marketing SVOne in the U.S. after receiving FDA clearance in December 2014.

Yaopeng Zhou and Marc Albanese, founders of Smart Vision Labs, were engineering students at Boston University in 2002, when they worked on a special project with a research institute specializing in vision problems to develop a scanning laser ophthalmoscope to diagnose retinal disorders. In 2013, Zhou and Albanese adopted that experience and founded the company, which soon won a $1 million Powerful Answers Award from Verizon, and secured seed funding from optometry retailer National Vision Inc.

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Hat tip: Fortune/Term Sheet

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