Beyond the Pitch

Founders’ Lunch Recap: My Sit Down with Melissa Bailey, Sight4All

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Our first Founders’ Lunch of 2017 gave me a great opportunity to connect with our luncheon speaker Melissa Bailey, OD, PhD, and the inventor of The Eye-Scan App (TESA), a product of Columbus startup Sight4All. Sight4all is a digital health company that is developing new, safe, effective, and affordable ways to bring significant improvements in vision diagnostics to licensed eye care providers.

This Q/A is lightly edited.

Tell us about your product and how you came up with it. Did you always see yourself becoming an inventor/entrepreneur?

I’ve loved research since I was in undergrad. I loved searching, discovering, and solving problems, but if you had asked me five years ago if I would have seen myself as an inventor, I would have said no. It wasn’t something I saw as my end goal. However, I think no matter what career you’re in or what you’re doing, you can always move toward being an inventor or an entrepreneur within your career.

What is the “why” behind your product? Why did you begin this process?

In the world of academia, you have colleagues with very impressive resumes. They could have 300 publications, but they are well aware that nothing they have accomplished may have impacted the lives of a single patient.

It bothered me that I was doing all of this work and it wouldn’t have an impact. If I could help bring this technology to practice, I could make a difference. I decided to stop filling out academia checklists and start making an impact.

It turns out my son had developed an eye-alignment issue. If his mom wasn’t an optometrist, we would have never found a solution. These were the motivating factors that helped me develop my app.

How did you originally validate the idea for TESA with the market?

Fortunately, I work in a building where there are a lot of optometrists; I have a constant focus group at my disposal. In reality, there are about 2.5 billion people in the world who need glasses but who have no one to measure what prescription would be needed. We can change that.

Why did you choose Sight4all to commercialize your product?

I want to remain on the inside of this field. When this process started, I wasn’t an engineer trying to see through a glass to fix a solution; I was behind the glass doing the work. After the problem and solution were identified, Ohio State’s Technology Commercialization Office (TCO) wanted us to license it to a startup company. We were fortunate to find Sight4All and to have Rev1 help us get funded.

I wanted to work with the product, I didn’t want to hand it off.

Where is the product now?

We’re now almost to a finished product. It’s difficult to force an iPhone into submission, but we are working on it.

Can you share some tips for connecting with resources?

No one had ever done this, so when I was working in the beginning multiple people told me things couldn’t be done, but that wasn’t true. I met a lot of great people along the way who helped me. At Rev1, we got great help finding consultants who helped us get our Ohio Third Frontier funding. The people in the Expert Network can help find the resources you need. Also, OSU is filled with expertise. if you need help it’s there to be found.

Tell me about being transparent in finding a team for your product.

When we were looking for a team, Sight4All had the same passion as I did.

Because of the nature of a startup, you will make mistakes. No one else has a roadmap to what you’re doing. People are going to inherently be filling roles for which they aren’t 100 percent because you don’t have the money, time, or other resources to fill those roles differently. There’s a fine balance between when to pay for expertise and when to patch it together in-house. You have to be willing to trust each other and have that “never-quit” aspect.

Talk a bit about how you navigated and refined telling your story so that people can understand the value for patients and clinicians. How are you able to turn that technical knowledge into a story to sell?

Well, it was a rough start. I had a lot of prep through OSU, but it didn’t come naturally. When I first sat down with my pitch, they had to polish it quite a bit. After that, I probably practiced over 100 times to get it right and feel comfortable. Giving pitches is something I’ve never done before. I had to keep working on it and take all the feedback I could get.

When you look back at your experience taking a product to market, how do you think being a women inventor and entrepreneur affected your journey?

It’s funny, I read that a majority of entrepreneurs are twenty-something and male—I’m far from each.

I think the biggest challenge is being the only women in a group of males when I’m trying to communicate something and it doesn’t come across the way I need it to. I have a son and a husband, I’m used to the struggle, but it all goes back to having different styles of communication.

I’ve been to local startup related events where there were up to five-hundred men in a room and maybe ten women—it’s intimidating but as a true entrepreneur you have to stand out. I did that.

Any other advice for entrepreneurs?

Some advice you will hear will sound cliché, but at the end of the day it’s all true. You hear stories about how Disney’s first character wasn’t actually Mickey Mouse, or about the “Never give in” speeches by Winston Churchill —it’s all inspiring. Use that inspiration.

Something I heard the other day was from a coach talking to a player: “You can’t focus on the last play, or the next play. You have to focus on the play that is happening right now,” which is so true. You need to be able to make mistakes and have setbacks that don’t sway your current course of action.

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