[Indie Interview] Dhruvin Patel as the Founder of Ocushield
TRB talks to eye health innovator, qualified optometrist and entrepreneur Dhruvin Patel about Ocushield.
Tell us about your background…
Looking back, I’ve always loved biology and anything to do with science. When I was at College, I went on a work experience programme where I shadowed an Optometrist in Specsavers. One day, the Optometrist said to me “This is a great job because you don’t take work home, you get to help people with the gift of sight, it’s well paid and you also have the opportunity to start your own business if you if you want to.” This really appealed to me. I’d always wanted to do my own thing and I loved helping people. This experience led me to doing a BSc Optometry at City University in London.
Whilst studying, I took a weekend job at Vision Express in Canary Wharf to earn some extra change and gain industry experience. One Saturday, the lead Optometrist gathered the team around to share a new product innovation; a coating for glasses called ‘blue control’. I was fascinated by the product. Growing up, my mother always told me how bad screens were for my eyes, but she never actually had a reason – there was no explanation.
The next week, back at University, I put together a research project with the faculty around the study of how artificial blue light affects our eyes physiology and circadian rhythms. I spent 12 months on the research and was able to prove that artificial blue lights from screens were causing eyestrain, headaches and even suppressing melatonin. It was such a wow moment for me!
I approached the CASS business school with my concept and through one of their competitions, I won £10,000 worth of grants. I then spent 18 months developing the first line of products. I put up a website and somehow got 1,000 pre orders. I had during development spoken to a lot of people along the way This allowed me to bootstrap and start the business from my university dorm room.
How has the business grown?
We started out in 2015. I had just graduated and was busy with my pre-registration. It was only by 2018 that I was working full time in the business which was growing steadily. In the first year we did £50k and by 2018, we had doubled our turnover. At that point, I brought in a fellow Optometrist, Asad Hamir. From there we focused on expanding the business and increasing our product range.
We went from a pure direct consumer business, which was just on our website, to launching on Amazon and we grew our revenue to £250k. We also pitched our anti blue light products on Dragons Den which resulted in an offer from not one but two Dragons, Tej Lalvani and Peter Jones. We opened doors into both retail and B2B and revenue passed the £670k mark. We are now up to around £2m.
Today our products are in retail stores including John Lewis and we are serving customers in around 70 countries. In the US, you can find our products in Best Buy, Nordstrom, Verizon and in the UAE in Virgin Megastores.
Our team is still quite small, we are a lean operation with 12 staff members.
What is different about your products?
We believe that we have created an ecosystem of products that protect eyes. When your eyes are healthy, you sleep better, you feel better, you get more done.
Our core products are not only created by Optometrists but are proven to filter out harmful blue light. Because of this, they have been registered as a class 1 medical device by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care in the UK. That’s the same agency that licensed the first vaccine against Covid. Their role is to make sure that products like drugs and medical devices do what they say and are safe for the market.
Our products are also registered with the FDA.
We think these credentials are important because it shows our customers that we care and that our brand can be trusted. There are a lot of half-baked products out there that don’t always do what they say they will.
How can you help corporates with eye care plans?
Our mission is to help people protect their eyes. We use our eyes every day and all day for work. The impact of blue light on our general wellbeing can’t be understated. Blue light can disrupt sleep and general wellbeing which in turn negatively affecting productivity. work
We spoke to a lot of HR professionals to find out what they do when it comes to eye care. What we found was that although businesses offered optical allowances or vouchers to employees, there was only a 2 to 3% adoption rate!
There seems to be three key issues. Firstly, people don’t like to go through the admin of an eye test, it’s often clunky. Secondly, the travel for someone to go out and get a test done is inconvenient, and finally, people don’t like being stuck in a room with an Optometrist! So, we set about creating an online remote tool which can be accessed through a mobile or a laptop. This remote eye screening and testing tool allows employees to identify in under 7 minutes if they have any vision abnormalities, muscle defects, depth perception issues and so on. It’s not a full eye examination but it’s a springboard to tell people there is a problem.
What happens after the test if help is needed?
We work with partners (in the UK and globally) who offer follow up examinations. Customers can book an appointment online at a local convenient partner. We can also customize the choice of partner for our corporate customers.
How does eye care relate to health and wellbeing?
The human body has 11 million sensory receptors – 10 million alone are in the eyes, to see. Every minute, your brain is using up to 55% of its power to decipher visual information. If you cannot see well – your brain is probably working overtime.
Just as our bodies need rest from exercise, so too do our eyes need to have break so it can replenish and refresh, avoiding fatigue which contributes to visual stress, headaches and eyestrain.
I recently read a report by Unilever which through its research had found that 30 hours of exposure to blue light from smartphone or laptop screens can increase the inflammation level in skin cells by 40 per cent and cause pigmentation. This also causes a reduction of elasticity on our skin which effectively ages us.
Artificial blue light can also reduce how much melatonin our body produces which of course is linked to a good night’s sleep.
Do you have any practical tips to maintain eye health?
Firstly, ‘zoom fatigue’ is a thing. More people than ever are logging onto video chat platforms to connect with colleagues, family and friends. Both the amount of eye contact we engage in on video chats, as well as the size of faces on screens is unnatural. We’re now seeing people have cognitive fog because they are on zoom meetings far too much.
What we’ve introduced in our business is that our cameras only need to be on for the first and last two minutes of the meeting. What we have found is that people are able to come forward with better creative and rational ideas because they can think rather than feel anxious around how they look or concentrate on sitting a certain way.
The second tip is to look at and consider the proximity of yourself and the screen, and make sure that you are at least an arm’s length away from the device.
Finally, look at the brightness of the device. Lowering brightness is a quick way to reduce the intensity of harmful blue light.
Dhruvin and the Ocushield team are now working towards achieving B Corps status to showcase its social impact and further cement the brand as a leader in its field. Ocushield is also now donating £1 from every web purchase to Guide Dogs UK. For more information, visit ocushield.com
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