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    • The inspiration was this gap between conventional eyeglasses and self-refraction eyeglasses. My initial thought was that we could use fluid-filled eyeglasses as a refraction tool, but the issue went back to some training that I'd had as a young submariner back in 1986. Fluid at different altitudes and temperatures had different volumes, and if you lost a drop of it, or got an air bubble in there, there would be a calibration issue (this is very important on submarines, and also with prescriptions!). If your device is off by just a tiny bit - a quarter or even a half-diopter, you're going to get an incorrect pair of eyeglasses. One diopter is one millimeter of movement in the exact focal point of your lens. What a good lens is supposed to do is make the light meet at a specific point at the back of your retina, and that lens in your eye increases or decreases in size as you look closer or farther away. People that need eyeglasses need them because your lens in your eye is either too close or too far from your retina, the back of your eye.

      So glasses correct that deficiency by moving the focal point back and forth, and a diopter is a unit of measurement for how far glasses move that focal point.

      So we needed something that was always going to be calibrated, so when you determined what your prescriptive needs were, it had to be exactly the same as the snap together lens. So I came up with this in September 13, 2013, and from after dinner until midnight, I was sitting at my kitchen table drawing this thing out, maybe 4 hours I was done, I had it.

      The way the Usee works is that the long lens bar has a full 12 diopter range. It goes from -6 to +6 diopters. So 0 is what a person with 20/20 sees - they need zero correction. Hyperopes need a positive range for distances, and Myopes need a negative lens (and this is the vast majority of people). So this system allows you to solve both near and far vision problems. The lens changes power as the patient turns the dial, and naturally moves the focal point across the retina - just like a pair of binoculars, it's very intuitive. I've put this on children and elderly people in the developing world, and regardless of age, they turn the wheel, their vision gets clear, and their eyebrows go up - that they can see clearly for the first time.

      The colors and numbers on the side of the lens are super-simple. If you start talking "diopters" and "-1.5" that's going to complicate the issue and slow down the education process. What could be simpler than a color / number system? Red 1,2,3,4? So if a patient dials into a Green 2, you pull a Green bag with the number 2 on it, and snap that lens in. If they dial in a Red 4, you pull a Red bag with a number 4 on it, snap it in. You put the glasses on the patient, do a retest to make sure it works, and then you're done.

      Every step I took to get this kit to where it is was asking how can it be simpler? So a community health worker with maybe one day of education on the system can be an effective distributor of eyeglasses. I have trained farmers with no formal education on how to do the system, and they've picked it up easily. It's practical, and if they can talk to someone, they can do it.

    • National Geographic was cool because it really put us on the map as a viable solution. I was featured in September 2017 - right as I was presenting at the UN. We won the National Geographic "Chasing Genius" in the Healthcare category - you can see the video here.

      That gave us a lot of credibility, that I wasn't just a Marine with an outlandish idea. Global Vision 20/20 had been vetted by an incredible panel from National Geographic. We got more interest in what we were doing, and a few months after that, the clinical trials from Johns Hopkins was published - so those two things combined, showing results from a bona fide medical institution, and a trusted publication, showed we were a viable solution to solve this problem.

    • Paraguay was an interesting place to visit. Paraguay has an indigenous population that values a nomadic lifestyle, and the rest of the population values a more conventional lifestyle where you own and farm a specific piece of land. The indigenous population has been given land, but is not able to roam all over the place as hunter-gatherers. They make enough for themselves, but money has no value for them (relatively), so they were having a difficult time fitting into society. So Fundacion Paraguay put on an event to help alleviate poverty in Paraguay, and they invited me to visit and showcase increasing access to eyeglasses as part of the sustainable development goals they are working on - equal access to education, healthcare, economic empowerment, gender equality, road safety, and overall quality of life.

      Poor vision affects every aspect of your life. For those with access, it is not a disability - if you need -13 eyeglasses here, it's relatively easy to get access to eyeglasses, and then you can drive a car, study or work. In Paraguay, where there is challenging access, you are legally blind with -13 vision. My main focus historically has been Africa, but I've been to Paraguay, Vietnam, and India, areas where there is a large need for vision for the population.

      I am still talking to Fundacion Paraguay trying to determine the best model to get the Usee glasses out. I did provide them with several "backpacks" of Usee kits to distribute. Each backpack includes everything you need, from lenses to frames to the Usee system, to outfit 500 people with durable custom eyeglasses (you can pledge to support a backpack on our website).

    • Namibia was another opportunity to highlight how easy it was to distribute eyeglasses. I took my 2 sons with me for a few reasons; to get them to experience why I was so passionate about giving away eyeglasses, and to show people that a 15 year old and a 13 year old can be effective and efficient screeners and distributors of eyeglasses. We flew into Windhook, Namibia (the capital), and then we rented a safari vehicle with a tent on the roof, and we had this camper, and drove to schools, setting up vision screenings and distributing glasses to kids, teachers, parents - anyone who needed them. We were there 3.5 weeks. When we were bush camping, your "Spidey Senses" start tingling - at one point, we noticed a troop of baboons walking near where we were camped. Baboons can be pretty dangerous, and here I am with my two teenage sons, thinking how smart was it to do this? But people do this all the time, so I sent them to sleep with a shovel, and told them that if anyone started messing with the tent, if that thing doesn't respond to a verbal warning, you hit the side of the tent with the shovel! Nothing happened, the baboons steered clear of us, but we were miles from anywhere.

    • The fact that my life would have suffered immeasurably had I not had glasses. And there are 2.5 billion people out there who are experiencing the same things, but for their whole lives. My sons both wear eyeglasses, and I imagine their lives if they didn't have glasses.

    • Winning at the WeWork Global Creator Awards was instrumental for your organization. What was that experience like, to find out that you'd won?

    • The greatest thing about winning at the Creator Awards was meeting Victoria and the other people involved. The funds allowed us to go from making 20-30 Usee units at one time, to making THOUSANDS at a time. I increased my staff, and found really good people to help me with this mission. And very similarly to the National Geographic award, it added outside validation that it's real, that this system is real and has to work to help those 2.5 billion people in need. The encouragement I got from the folks at WeWork, the encouragement to work harder, and the fact that Adam and his team believed in me, that was pretty humbling. The experience of finding out I won - the word is overused, but it was surreal. We weren't told who was going to come out first, or in what order, but sitting in that booth backstage with Samantha Snabes, when we were the last two, we turned and looked to each other and guessed it was either her or me! We thought we were going to win something, and I was happy for her, but I really wanted to win the $1 million. So when we came out and found out we'd both won the $1 million prize, we were both floored. And I got to introduce my boys to LeVar Burton, which was great.

    • This year, leading up to 2020, now we have product, it is going to be finding the right distribution partners so we can hit 1 million glasses distributed in 2020. So it's establishing those government relationships and grants to build the distribution capability. By 2020 I want to have a distribution center somewhere in Africa - either Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, possibly South Africa, so much to think about. But for 2020, the goal is to get the networks established that can hit our goals of distribution.

      The issue that conventional glasses distribution has is the bottleneck of training people who can dispense eyeglasses. We've taken that training from one year to one day. We still have the same limitation of refraction - we can't hit trachoma, glaucoma, or cataracts - but you can identify them and put them into the eye health network for a higher echelon of care (this is the same with other refraction-based organizations). That ability to train someone in a day is a game-changer. And as long as we incorporate it under the umbrella of the eye health community, you're going to increase the efficiency of that entire eye health community to be able to address the other pathologies. These screeners will be able to identify when they can't help someone with a pair of eyeglasses, but they can help push them into the system.

      And as of January 1 of 2019, we've become members of the IAPB, the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, and they've added our Usee kit to the IAPB standards list. What this means is that the international eye health community has endorsed our system as a viable solution to refractive error. That's why I went to Johns Hopkins, that's why we we're doing field trials with the University of Johannesburg, we're doing clinical trials at Hanoi Medical College for children, so we are doing this all under the umbrella of the greater eye health community. This is very important to me, because I don't want to be a "cowboy." I'm building this team so we can address the problem correctly, ethically, and efficiently.

    • To others out there who are dreaming of starting a nonprofit or other entrepreneurial organization, what words of wisdom would you want to share?

    • Find what you're passionate about. What injustice do you think you can make a difference in? What can't you live with? And really dig deep into why it's not happening. What's wrong with the system that we can't solve this issue? And then become an expert. And then don't be afraid to think outside the box a little bit. I've had lens physicists look at my device, optometrists, and they all have the same reaction - this is really SIMPLE. And I respond with "Yes, it has to be!" I came at it from the perspective of how can we reduce error - either you can, or you cannot see - as easily as possible. It's about ease of access. You don't need electricity. You don't need a smartphone.

      And then once you have that idea, get it formalized; either from where you are to where you want to be, or planning backwards on how to get there. So whether it's finding customers, finding money, finding clients - just keep working on that plan.

      And then most importantly - don't give up! I've been working on this for ten years.