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Ocular Technologies, a startup developing telemedical solutions to improve access to eye care, wins the 2020 MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition

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AgZen, whose offering reduces pesticide usage by 50%, wins $50K Launch Runner-Up Prize

Cambridge, MA, May 28, 2020—Ocular Technologies, a startup that has developed a device-enabled telemedicine platform powered by machine learning to improve accessibility to eye care, beat out seven finalists to win the Robert P. Goldberg $100,000 grand prize at the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Launch Finale held virtually for the first time in the Competition’s 31-year history.

New this year was a $50K Launch Runner-Up Prize awarded to AgZen, whose field-tested spray and formulation technology allows reduction of pesticide usage by 50%.

The MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition remains an economic barometer for sectors of innovation that are receiving funding by venture capitalists. To date, the MIT $100K has facilitated the birth of more than 160 companies, which have gone on to raise $1.3 billion in venture capital and build $16 billion in market capitalization. More than 30 MIT $100K startups have been acquired by major companies, such as Oracle, Cisco, 3M, and Merck. Over 4,600 people are currently employed by MIT $100K companies. Recent IPOs include Akamai (AKAM) and Hubspot (HUBS).

According to the CDC and private payers, patients present with nearly 100 million eye conditions each year across the United States with only 19,000 ophthalmologists to address them. One recent study finds that the average wait time in the U.S. for the first available ophthalmologist appointment averages 24 days. This results in eight million patients who cannot access same-day care with an eye doctor and instead resort to visiting emergency rooms or urgent care centers. Unfortunately, both facilities often lack the tools and expertise to properly address eye conditions. Several other studies show that over 40% of eye diagnoses made at these facilities are inaccurate and can lead to improper treatment. That’s three million people who risk vision loss and worsened pain.

In response, Ocular Technologies is developing a device-enabled telemedicine platform powered by machine learning algorithms to transform patient accessibility to high quality eye care by capturing high magnification videos of anterior segment exams that enable ophthalmologists to make a diagnosis remotely.

Team members are:

Brett Sternfield, co-founder, MIT Sloan MBA 2020. Sternfield earned a BS and MS from the University of Rochester in Biomedical and Optical Engineering. His father’s vision issues inspired him to build solutions for eye care aimed at improving vision.

Zona Liu, co-founder, MIT Sloan MBA 2020. Prior to MIT Sloan, she spent five years with Goldman Sachs' strategic investment team and was the director of business development at SOSV, one of the most active early stage VCs.​

Grayson W. Armstrong, MD, MPH, co-founder. Dr. Armstrong currently serves as the Chief Resident in Ophthalmology at Massachusetts Eye & Ear / Harvard Medical School and on the Board of Trustees of the American Medical Association, the largest physician organization in the United States. Starting in July, he will be undertaking a one-year fellowship in tele-ophthalmology at Harvard.

A panel of judges chose Ocular Technologies based on value creation, value capture, and technological differentiation.

New this year was a $50K Runner-Up Prize awarded to the startup AgZen. Studies by Oxford University found that on average less than 2% of sprayed pesticide reaches its intended target. This inefficiency forces over-spraying, which results in the pollution of soil, water sources and the atmosphere, leading to two hundred thousand deaths every year according to the United Nations. AgZen’s field-tested spray and formulation technology allows reduction of pesticide usage by 50%. Pesticides have a market size of $60 billion globally, and $15 billion in the U.S. Based on AgZen’s business model, the total addressable market is $9 billion.

The six remaining finalists include:

GC Therapeutics (GCTx) is developing the next generation of cell therapies, a market on track to be worth $55 billion by 2024. GCTx uses synthetic biology to program patient-derived stem cells into any differentiated cell-type with best-in-class efficiency (10x), speed (100x) and scalability. Leveraging this breakthrough process, their team can program additional cellular features and go beyond simply replacing damaged cells, thereby introducing their new concept of ‘SuperCell™ Therapy’ to allow the tailoring of cells to specific clinical indications.

Harmony Desal: The dominant technology in desalination today is reverse osmosis (RO.) While RO is trusted and proven, it is also energy intensive. Harmony Desal’s technology—batch reverse osmosis—is the most energy-efficient RO configuration. In batch RO, a time-varying pressure tracks the osmotic pressure to increase water recovery while consuming less energy. More than $30 billion dollars is estimated to be invested in seawater desalination over the next five years. Batch RO has been proven at the bench-scale (TRL: 4.5) and is ready to move from the lab and into the market.

Hikma Health: Healthcare delivery for displaced populations is fragmented, uncoordinated, and under-resourced. Hikma Health, launched with the support of the MIT Media Lab Refugee Learning Accelerator, creates custom health data management systems for partner organizations around the globe that provide free healthcare to millions of refugees to improve their patient outcomes. Hikma Health’s end-to-end integrated platform is specifically designed to fit the needs of under-resourced settings, including multilingual functionality and online-offline syncing. Leveraging cutting edge technologies, they create personalized predictive models, and empower physicians and care providers with the data they need to improve outcomes for their patients with chronic conditions.

Le Qara has bioengineered a new vegan, eco-friendly bioleather by changing its texture, thickness and flexibility, allowing them to replicate any type of leather or create new ones. Le Qara bioleather has the same breathability because, like animal leather, it comes from alive microorganisms. It is not only biodegradable—the residues from the process can be used as a liquid compost, making it a process that generates no waste. La Qara’s aim is to disrupt the leather industry.

Spatio Metrics is a B2B software company that creates rich spatial datasets to capture qualitative design characteristics. Their first product analyzes hospital floor plans to reveal how facility design choices can improve quality of care, operational efficiency, and wellbeing. Their visualizations and machine learning insights support hospitals and their architects during the design process to save time, money, and most importantly, lives.

Thiozen: Hydrogen produced by fossil fuel reforming—which comprises 96% of total production—contributes to 2,3% of global warming emissions. Thiozen has invented a patented process to generate hydrogen that is 20% less expensive and 75% less carbon intense than current methods used in oil and gas. As an illustration, their process would save the average US refinery $9.6 million each year while avoiding 60,000 tons of CO2 emissions, roughly 20% of a refinery’s annual carbon footprint.

This year’s keynote speaker was Anne Wojcicki, founder and CEO of 23andMe, who was interviewed in a Fireside Chat format.

“Even more than the big checks for our winners, the greatest value the $100K creates for competitors is a platform to share their ideas with the world,” says Christian Mirabile, MIT Sloan MBA 2021, one of the $100K Competition organizers. “A lot of their early growth comes from live interaction— building connections with mentors, potential investors, and future users. We were unsure we would be able to replicate that buzzing atmosphere through a virtual event. But once we heard from our competitors, how they were working harder than ever on their startups, we knew we had to do our part and give them the best platform possible to launch their ventures.”

To watch the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Launch Finale, please visit: www.mit100k.org

Since its debut as the MIT $10K Entrepreneurship Competition in 1989, it has grown to include three independent contests – Pitch, Accelerate, and Launch – from September through May. Each contest focuses on developing specific founding skills. For each semi-finalist contender, the MIT $100K brings together a network of resources that includes mentorship from venture capitalists, serial entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and attorneys; media exposure; prototyping funds; business plan feedback; and discounted services. Altogether, almost $1M in non-dilutive prize money and other financial resources are awarded to help these new ventures accelerate. www.mit100k.org

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