Bhavin Shah, who qualified as an optometrist in 1997, is the co-founder of Okimo – a tool that aims to detect reading difficulties among children by tracking their eye movements.
Where does your enthusiasm for technology come from?
I’ve always been passionate about technology, right from when I was a child. When I was at university, the World Wide Web had been launched a couple of years before and I was building very basic web pages. I like the way that you can use technology to solve problems that couldn’t have even been envisaged before. You can use your imagination to think of something and now you can physically realise it.
What is Okimo?
Okimo is a tool to detect and monitor visual causes of reading difficulties by analysing a patient’s eye movements. We can improve their ability to read and therefore improve their ability to learn and access education. A child reads a test passage on the screen and we have a sensor that will analyse their eye movements as they are reading. There are certain patterns of eye movements that happen in children with reading difficulties. We use those patterns to give a diagnosis of what problems are occurring.
"It will help the future of optometry if we can find ways of embracing technology in practice"
What is next for your start-up?
The next thing is really steering towards more practitioners using the tool. I think it would help practitioners a lot because it would allow them to give more value to their patients, it’s a practice differentiator and encourages patients to come back. It will help the future of optometry if we can find ways of embracing technology in practice. People are not just more accepting of it but are expecting the use of technology rather than some of our traditional techniques.
What are the challenges of being involved in a start up?
It’s been hard work. Initially there was some resistance. As we’ve been progressing and people get to see what we’re doing, there has been a lot more acceptance. We’ve had trials in Paraguay and the Philippines of our beta version and we are starting on final trials in those two countries in the next month or so. The thing about being in a start up is you end up having to do so much work outside of the clinical side. You need to network and build contacts. You end up meeting people from different start ups who have a different problem that they are trying to solve. It does help a lot when you’ve got other people who are going through the same thing as you. As a community, we all have these challenges that happen along the way and it’s just part of the journey.
Image credit: Central Vision Opticians