Ontario-based eSight, the world leader in wearable technology for addressing blindness, credits its success to Ontario's engineering talent, generous R&D tax credits and available venture capital.
Toronto's eSight debuted the latest version of its breakthrough vision technology at the 32nd CSUN Assistive Technology Conference in San Diego, California. “The reaction was predictably dramatic,” says eSight CEO Brian Mech.
“People can't believe the life changing difference our glasses make until they try them,” he says. “And watching their reaction to being able to see makes our work so rewarding.”
Based on years of R&D carried out at its Ottawa facility, eSight's lightweight headset resembles the visor worn by the “Star Trek” character Geordi La Forge. It houses a high-speed, high-definition camera that captures everything the wearer is looking at and displays it on two OLED screens in front of their eyes, giving them instant sight.
[Ontario] universities produce some of the world's best engineers. They're highly educated, creative problem solvers.
“Our technology sets the gold standard for low vision glasses,” says Mech. “The hands-free design means they can be worn anywhere and they don't compromise balance or cause nausea which are common problems with other immersive technologies.”
As our population ages, the market for eSight's headset is potentially enormous.
eSight was created in 2006 when Conrad Lewis, a successful engineer and the company's founder, set out to develop a solution that would let his two legally blind sisters see.
It took seven years – and $32 million – to develop the technology, test it and produce the first commercially viable product, a short time in the medtech field.
“We were fortunate to be located in Ontario,” says Mech.
Engineers with remarkable skills
Assembling a crack engineering team, one that could develop revolutionary new technology, wasn't a problem.
“We've got a great, and large, talent pool in Ontario,” says Mech. “Our universities produce some of the world's best engineers. They're highly educated, creative problem solvers. Thinking outside the box is normal for them. They're also not afraid to put in long hours. From the start, our team has been driven by our mission to help people see.”
Ontario also provides eSight with the skilled labour it needs to manufacture the headsets, which are made at the Ottawa facility well.
Generous incentives for R&D cut costs and drive innovation
Ontario's generous R&D tax credits have also played a key role in eSight's success. When combined with federal R&D programs, they can cut a small or medium-size enterprise's costs by as much as 55%.
“R&D is fundamental to us. We're continually improving our technology, so Ontario's R&D tax credits have been critically important.”
And while raising capital was challenging in the very early days, most of the money the company has raised has come from Canadian investors – including $500,000 from the Ontario government through its Investment Accelerator Fund.
The combination of access to an exceptional talent pool, venture capital and R&D tax credits has made it possible for eSight to build the largest, best-funded laboratory in the world dedicated to wearable technology for addressing blindness.
Next up for the company? eSight, which has been selling its glasses in Canada and the U.S. since late 2014, will make them available to the European market starting in the spring of 2017.