This Columbus startup is giving millions of people a better option for contacts
Most of us take our eyes for granted. Whether we wear glasses, use contact lenses or are fortunate to have great vision, the way we see is an important part of all of our lives. But for many people, the decision on how to see properly isn’t as easy as choosing between glasses or contacts. Millions of people suffer from presbyopia, a name for the gradual development of farsightedness with age that also makes typical contact lenses ineffective. Fortunately, Columbus startup LENTECHS is here to make sure that even the trickiest pair of eyes has access to contact lenses.
“Lots of people are very happy with their contacts, but the exception to that is the population with presbyopia, which people develop as they age,” said LENTECHS President and CEO Robin Sears. “It’s a natural part of aging where your eye’s lens becomes less flexible. As you try to focus on an object near you, your lens losing flexibility means you can’t see it very well. It mainly affects people over 40 years old. These are the people who end up getting ‘readers,’ the people you see in a restaurant holding a menu far from their face to see.”
For the many people dealing with presbyopia as they age, contact lenses aren’t an ideal option. In most lenses, different optics are in rings around the lens, which means wearers are constantly processing distant, intermediate and near vision all at once. That method leaves people seeing halos at night, causes problems in low light, leads to strain and means that results are usually great from distance and poor up close or vice versa. That’s why LENTECHS created something entirely different.
The startup’s lenses function more similarly to glasses than traditional contacts. A polymer crest on the surface of the lens allows it to hug the eyelid and stay in one place rather than move with the eye and multiple focal lengths emulate traditional lenses found in bifocal or progressive addition glasses.
“You can move your eye behind the lens without it moving,” Sears said. “The lens is suspended from the inside of the upper lid and the eye moves freely behind it, basically like a pair of glasses. We can give you glasses-like vision in a contact lens. And for a person with presbyopia, that’s a mind-blowing concept. In our marketing research, nearly 100 percent of people who wear contacts now or have presbyopia want to learn more and are interested in our lens.”
The company isn’t just addressing a niche market. An estimated 128 million Americans suffer from presbyopia, and while about 25 percent of all people who wear corrective lenses use contacts, that figure is just 10 percent for people with presbyopia because typical lenses don’t work for them. LENTECHS believes they can quadruple the number of presbyopia sufferers wearing contacts, making for a huge business opportunity and a large potential market.
“Vision is critically important to who we are as people and human beings,” said Sears. “So for us, the biggest impact we can have is improving vision for people at every stage of their lives and alleviating the frustration that these patients with presbyopia feel. People don’t like to wear glasses and they want the freedom of a contact lens, and we think we can offer them something really special. Giving patients more satisfaction in daily life through better vision is a worthy mission and we’re really excited about fulfilling that promise.”
LENTECHS and its technology is truly an Ohio success story. The company is a spinout of The Ohio State University and uses technology licensed from OSU creators Melissa Bailey and Joe Barr. The company itself got up and running thanks in part to a grant from the Ohio Third Frontier’s Technology Validation Start-up Fund. Now ready to launch from their Columbus headquarters, Sears and his team are major advocates for Ohio.
“That grant helped this whole project get up and running; it helped us build our first prototype,” he said. “The support of the great people of Ohio and that TVSF grant was a really important part of our advancement and the momentum we needed to kick off this whole process. And here in Ohio, we have access to deep expertise in the field and it’s a great place to find talent. There’s an entrepreneurial spirit here in Columbus that’s really important, and we can develop this technology very efficiently with the capital we have compared to if we had launched on the coast.”