Over 700 million people around the world are in dire need of eye care but currently don’t have access to it. Ethical inventors Owen Reading, David Crosby, Richard Taylor and Greg Storey, have invented what could be the answer the global eye care problem: auto-adjusting smart glasses to bring near-perfect vision to those with eyesight issues.
The four entrepreneurs behind this innovation, known as Eyejusters, started working on the UK’s first smart glasses with adjustable prescription six years ago, manufacturing the glasses themselves and transporting them to rural areas of developing countries without optometric care.
We speak to Owen Reading on this groundbreaking innovation and what the future holds for their start-up.
Name of entrepreneurs: Owen Reading, David Crosby, Richard Taylor, Greg Storey
Location: Oxford, UK
Date launched: The company was founded in 2010, but the latest product range was launched April 2016
Number of employees: 10
What does your business do?
Eyejusters makes adjustable focus glasses, that allow a user to change the strength (or focus) of the lens with the turn of a dial. We develop our SlideLens technology in-house, and manufacture at our state-of-the-art production line here in the UK. We launched our new product range in April 2016 and we’re starting a big expansion push across UK and international markets.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
There are 700 million people worldwide (according to WHO estimates) who need a pair of glasses, but can’t get them due to a lack of eye care services. The idea with adjustable focus glasses was that people could adjust the lenses themselves without needing a professional. Several attempts by various groups have been made at them over the years – but we took a step back and realised that for them to be successful, they had to look like normal glasses, and come in a choice of frames. This was the guiding principle behind the development of our lens technology and product range.
How did you know there was a market for it?
We knew from previous work done in the field, and from WHO statistics, that there was a great need in the developing world – hundreds of millions of people. After we launched our product, we were approached by a catalogue company who were interested in offering our product as adjustable reading glasses. We started with a trial amount, and a few days after it went live online they called me to tell me they needed more – much more. Unfortunately I was in the Atlas mountains in Morocco, setting up a vision project with some local partners, so it wasn’t an ideal moment! Based on the feedback we got, we’ve completely redesigned our range to offer a high quality, attractive product
How did you raise funding, and why?
We’ve raised funding through a number of sources – initially from grants, then later from friends & family investors under seed EIS, to help us develop the core technology. In September 2014 we agreed a major investment deal with two angel investors who have continued to support us, providing resources and advice that have been invaluable. We raised this larger round of funding to enable us to invest in our new production line and launching our new product range successfully.
Describe your business model in brief.
We’re very hands-on, which has led us to being very vertically-integrated. We develop and manufacture our SlideLens technology in-house, and run our own sales operation.
We ship worldwide through our web store, and have had a lot of success in the UK. We’re also expanding our retail presence here in the UK and picking up a number of distributors around the world.
In the developing world we work with local partners and deliver a model that’s appropriate to the country and circumstances – it’s difficult to generalise. We want to be commercially viable as much as possible – this helps everyone involved in the value chain.
What was your first big milestone and when did you cross it?
We’ve had several over the years, but the really big milestone was the launch of our latest product range in April of this year. This is the product we’ve been working towards since we started, and it’s amazing to see it through to fruition.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Be ambitious and build capability in-house. We built our in-house manufacturing knowledge and capability over many years until we were confident enough to embark on a state-of-the-art lens production line. We wouldn’t be able to make our lenses if we’d subcontracted it out. Building skills in-house pays off in cost and capability for your company.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
We want to establish Eyejusters as a widely-known consumer brand, offering a genuinely useful, high quality product
If you weren’t an entrepreneur, you would be…
What is your philosophy on business or life, in a nutshell?
We’re very proud to be a bit different – whether it’s keeping manufacturing in the UK, developing the technology in-house or making it as simple as possible for our retail customers to sell our products. We want to build a genuinely world-class company with huge capability without losing our connection with our customers and their needs, and the need for high quality vision worldwide.