Archive for August, 2017

The Ophek team working on the innovative plan at the Technion’s 3–Day Startup competition: (l to r) Igor Vainer, Sahar Sela and Doron Manzur.

“Lazy eye” (amblyopia) is the most common cause of pediatric vision problems, affecting two to three out of every 100 children. Typically, the lazy eye itself looks normal, but for various reasons the brain favors the other eye. Amblyopia must be diagnosed at an early age to optimize treatment outcomes. But getting a child to sit still while a bright light is shining into his/her eyes, is easier said than done.

To diagnose lazy eye and other vision disorders in kids, Technion students Doron Manzur and Sahar Sela, originally part of a team of eight students working together at the Technion 3–Day Startup (3DS) competition in April 2017, came up with the idea of creating a pediatric eye exam that uses virtual reality to make the process fun!

Sixty pitches were narrowed down to 30, and then cut further. Their Ophek-VR (an acronym for Ophthalmologic exam for kids) landed in the top 10, bringing a $50,000 prize and the chance to enter the prestigious national BizTEC Challenge. While they did not make it through the next round, Doron, a medical student (class of 2017), and Sahar, an engineering student, continue to develop Ophek, and share their thoughts on the process.

How was the idea born?

Doron, CEO, Ophek-VR: The idea came to one of our original teammates, Igor Vainer, a medical student who is now focused solely on finishing his medical degree. While working in the eye department at Rambam Hospital, he saw the pediatric exam was time consuming, and not suitable for children. It required the child’s cooperation in keeping his forehead still while a strong light was directed into his eyes. Every time the child moved, the device lost focus and the doctor had to start again. Also, the hospital setting is frightening for children.

Ophek-VR’s original 8-member team gives a thumbs up at the competition: (l to r) Itamar Getzler; Rafi Nave, head of the Bronica Entrepreneurship Center at the Technion; Igor Vainer; Sahar Sela; Doron Manzur; Ron Liraz; Meged Shoham; Dan Cohen and Chen Reich.

What brought you to the 3–DS, and to your teammates?

Doron: I always knew I wanted to be a doctor, and I also wanted to do something that is meaningful. I worked before in a small startup that didn’t succeed. And I am now also working at Novocure, started by Technion Professor Yoram Palti, which uses electrical fields to treat brain cancer. Then I found 3–DS.

Sahar, COO, Ophek-VR: Startups always attracted me. During high school, in Ra’anana (a suburb of Tel Aviv), I made my own computer lab and took a leadership program that focused on developing social startups. I wanted to start an organization to help bulimic young women, but didn’t have the time to pursue it. At the Technion, I’m studying electrical engineering and physics. Entering the 3DS presented an opportunity to combine my scientific bent with my interest in the social good.

Can you describe the 72 hours of the 3DS?

Doron: It was a roller coaster. We didn’t know each other from the start. We started on a Thursday evening, working until 2:00 a.m., hearing what everyone wanted to do in the project. The next morning, we went to Rambam Hospital to talk with a doctor about our idea and get his feedback. We returned pale as ghosts. We had hoped he would say ‘this was amazing,’ but he gave us the cold shoulder. We thought about changing everything.

We took a 30-minute break to think about revamping the project. When we came back together, we agreed that the idea was a good one and we wouldn’t let anyone tell us any differently. We saw a need, and a solution. It was already 8 p.m. when we started working on the project again, and panicked because there wasn’t much time left. In the morning, we pitched it.

An animated picture of the future exam

How will Ophek-VR work?

Sahar: We are building Ophek as a virtual reality device that will use lenses and cameras to examine a patient’s eyes, while he or she watches a movie. The patient will wear a set of VR goggles that allows him to move his eyes, but keeps them at a steady distance from the camera. We will need to shine a direct beam of light in the eye, but the light will be incorporated into the movie. The device can be used in a doctor’s office, so the child will not need to visit the hospital. Later, we’ll be able to add machine learning in order to recognize common patterns of various eye diseases, leading to better diagnosis.

Ophek team members after landing in the top 10: (l to r) Doron Manzur, Igor Vainer, Meged Shoham, Chen Reich, Dan Cohen, Sahar Sela and Ron Liraz

Entrepreneurs tend to embrace setbacks on the assumption that “failure is one step toward success.” What is the future for Ophek, now that you will not be heading toward BizTEC?

Doron: For now, we are focusing on understanding why we didn’t make it to the finals. The judges didn’t give us any comments on their decision, and the organizers of BizTEC thought our product and idea was very good. So, we are trying to understand the market better, and see if our solution really fits the problem.

Sahar: We didn’t get to BizTEC, but we did leave with a bag full of lessons, experience in entrepreneurship, and connections with lawyers who will do business with us in the future. We’ll keep working on this project because this was just a competition. One competition you win and another you lose.

Check out our recent Facebook photo album for more photos.

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