Bolstered by $4 million in funding from investors, medical device company iScreen Vision Inc. is charting a strategic growth plan that will see the Cordova-based operation expand across the country and around the world in the coming years.
The company specializes in hand-held vision screening machines that primarily are used to test patients from 1 to 10 years in age.
The substantial investment dollars, which make the deal one of the most sizable in recent memory for a Memphis-area medical device firm, afford the young company capital enough to focus on assembling a larger sales force to extend iScreen’s brand across the country. And greater visibility will likely translate into higher sales, which should yield larger returns for investors.
The simple device uses digital technology to capture images of children’s eyes and alert medical professionals to any current or potential vision problems, such as Amblyopia (lazy eye), Hyperopia (farsightedness) and Myopia (nearsightnedness).
Rather than require children to read letters or identify pictures on an eye chart, the iScreen device captures digital images of the eyes and immediately transfers those images to medical specialists via web technology. Within minutes, patients are evaluated and any abnormalities or potential problems are identified with the results transmitted to the medical professionals who are testing patients.
And the easy operation allows the machine to be used by nonlicensed medical personnel, which frees up doctors to care for more patients. Medical information is encrypted and securely store in compliance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) regulations.
Already being used by more than 100 clinics and facilities across the country, iScreen is expected to significantly broaden its national and global footprint during the next decade.
The majority of the latest round of investment funding — $2.5 million in new money and $1.5 million in converted debt — will be used to hire additional sales representatives and aggressively market the innovative product. The funding came from MB Venture Partners, a venture capital fund started in Memphis by AutoZone founder J.R. “Pitt” Hyde and investment banker Gary Stevenson, Innova and private investors.
According to figures from Pricewaterhouse Coopers, there have been 23 venture capital deals worth more than $47 million in Tennessee through the first two quarters of 2013. That’s up from $32 million in funding to 15 deals during the same period last year.
“This is one of the largest investments we’ve seen in the medical device industry for a company at this stage,” Stevenson said. “To attract that kind of capital demonstrates how much we believe in them and how enthusiastic we are about their future.”
And that stems from years of research and product development, Stevenson explained.
Formed as iScreen LLC in 2000 by inventor Jack Bellows and Dr. Ross Kennedy, along with investors John Stokes and Bobby Cox, the company never managed to gain solid traction. Then Buck Brown and Darryl Jackson, backed by new investors, relaunched the company in 2010, tweaked the design — including transforming the prototype into a much smaller, easily portable version of the original device — and were able to secure FDA clearance in 2011. Since then, iScreen has been growing in popularity among eye treatment specialists.
“The biggest challenge by far was gaining FDA clearance, but once we had that it allowed us to move forward at a much quicker pace,” said Brown, iScreen’s president and chief executive officer. “It’s been a valuable experience for us because we were forced to run a lean operation from the start and I think that made us more attractive to investors. They saw that we didn’t waste any resources and managed to achieve positive returns.”
Added chief operating officer Jackson, “We’ve been very deliberate about our growth plan and we’ve managed to supply facilities with top quality devices and offer outstanding service, which adds to our company value. In the year ahead we expect our devices to be used in facilities that are accessible to 80 percent of the U.S. population and we’ll be adding sales staff to expand here and internationally.”
Last year iScreen counted only two sales reps serving accounts in 15 states, but now the company employs more than 30 sales professionals located across the nation. There are also a half-dozen staffers working with Brown and Jackson at iScreen’s Cordova headquarters.
Lori Short, program manager of Iowa KidSight that is administered through the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Iowa, said iScreen’s benefits are numerous.
“The digital technology means lower cost, less time for the procedure and it’s much more accurate than asking a child to read from an eye chart,” said Short, whose program offers vision screenings for more than 40,000 children each year. “We’re transitioning from film-based technology to this digital technology and the results for us have been overwhelmingly positive. There’s nothing else out there like this.”
Beyond the cost savings, Short said the iScreen device is doing an even more important job by saving sight. Too many parents don’t know their children’s eyesight is compromised because the youngsters don’t complain or exhibit any warning signs.
Dr. William Greene, who uses iScreen devices at Community Pediatric Medical Group located outside Los Angeles agreed.
“A child who’s grown up with less than perfect sight doesn’t know any different and the issue may not be discovered until much later, when problems are more severe. The same may be true of children with autism or those too young to communicate and with traditional testing methods and it’s difficult to diagnose them.” Greene said. “This device is revolutionary and it’s an amazing tool to help detect problems early on and treat them.”
What: Company producing vision screening medical devices
Where: Headquarters at 110 Timber Creek Drive, Suite 2, Cordova
Principals: Buck Brown, CEO, and Darryl Jackson, chief operating officer