Forbes.com: No Need For A Cash Pile If Startup Leaders Have A Strong Idea, Clear Vision

Yuval Yashiv is the chief executive of a London-based technology company that just might transform the diagnosis of eye conditions in a way not seen for half a century. A quietly-spoken, thoughtful man, he has already made his mark in the technology world (even if it has not made him as famous as those dealing in consumer technology) as head of Pixology, a company that pioneered the development of the means of enabling the automatic removal of “red eye” from digital photographic images. This IRISS technology was licensed to many of the world’s leading camera brands before Pixology was sold to a Canadian business. When this organization opted not to develop the red-eye operation, Yashiv did a deal to regain the technology and thought that it might have an application in optometry.

He was supported in this view by his own optometrist, Dr Simon Barnard, who provided clinical input to the development of the technology and is now chief medical officer at the business, IRISS Medical Technologies. Help with the finances was provided by Gordon Bott, who met Yashiv in the Pixology days when he was running the family photographic laboratory. With that now sold, Bott is an angel investor and a non-executive director at IRISS. Although this trio is now supplemented by a handful of others, Yashiv is at pains to stress that this is the sort of business that needs neither substantial initial investment nor banks of employees to get going or to develop. “It’s a pure technology business. There’s a rocket science algorithm. Therefore, we don’t need huge numbers of people,” he says.

Yashiv and his colleagues have also used that old trick of partnering with a larger concern for the manufacturing, marketing and distribution. Once again, neither Yashiv nor the business is likely to become a household name, for the simple reason that the device is being marketed as the Volk Eye Check rather than under its own name. Volk, a subsidiary of the UK-based Halma company, is well-known in the imaging market, and therefore has the clout to promote the device, but is almost invisible to the public at large. There are at least two advantages to this approach. On the one hand, an arrangement like this enables the founder to concentrate on the technology at the heart of the business, leaving other aspects to others more experienced in them. On the other, it means that the business does not need so much cash upfront. Having worked in venture capital after his initial business, Yashiv was aware of the pitfalls of taking that financing route. There is a saying among venture capitalists, he says ruefully, that “it’s never too early to fire the founder”.

As for the device itself, it is a simple hand-held scanner that can automatically diagnose medical conditions. This is more significant than it sounds because the two mainstream devices currently in use – one developed 130 years ago and the other 50 years ago – require eye specialists to take measurements manually and then use their experience to carry out a diagnosis. The IRISS device, by contrast, scans the eye, measures important dimensions and then uses the crucial algorithm to spot different medical conditions (indicated through pupils, irises and the like not being within normal parameters). Moreover, because the device is digital it can provide instant data for both individual patient records and also for research purposes.

Unlike the personal health monitors that are helping to create all the buzz around “wearable technology”, Volk Eye Check is not being targeted at consumers at all. But with millions of potential patients – from contact lens wearers suffering from ill-fitting lenses to children with squints that can have far-reaching consequences if not detected early – there would seem to be a sizeable market for it among professionals. Yashiv admits that the familiar conservatism scepticism about technology in the medical profession has been frustrating at times. But Bott stresses that getting a product like this to market in three years is “a remarkable achievement”.

This suggests that Yashiv is a special kind of leader – a person with a clear idea of what he is trying to achieve and the determination to make it happen. After all, if the Eye Check device takes off, Yashiv will have been closely involved in not one but two far-reaching technological developments. But, highly focused and tenacious as he undoubtedly is, the likelihood is that he is not alone. The Eye Check story is evidence that even now it is possible for someone with just a good idea and the expertise to bring it off to succeed, especially if he or she has the financial and emotional backing of another. With all the talk about lavishly-funded start-ups, it is worth remembering that many of the most successful businesses started small and modestly.

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