How did she do it? A Q&A with Uzma Samadani, founder of Oculogica

By Kathryn Swintek, member, Oculogica board of directors

December 7, 2017

Golden Seeds is focused on investing in the vibrant opportunities of women-led companies. As such, we work with many talented, passionate women entrepreneurs who are doing truly remarkable things. Our “How did she do it?” series shares the stories, challenges and successes of the women behind the companies of Golden Seeds.

Today, Kathryn Swintek, board member of Oculogica, interviews Uzma Samadani, left, founder of Oculogica. Below, they discuss how Samadani launched her company, which is transforming the way traumatic brain injury and concussion will be diagnosed and treated.

KS: Tell us about the origins of your company.

I was doing clinical trials to improve outcomes after brain injury. The FDA was giving us a hard time about the outcome measure we wanted to use, so we ended up having to invent our own, and that turned out to be eye-tracking. At first, the plan was to use it just as an outcome measure for brain injury, and then we realized it was a physiologic indicator of function — you can actually tell what’s wrong with the brain by looking at the eye tracking.

Eye tracking now is where electroencephalogram (EEG) was in the 1950s. It’s freshly discovered. EEG permanently changed the way we diagnose seizures, and eye tracking will permanently change the way we diagnose brain injury.

However, I realized after I made this discovery that the only way for people to benefit from it is to commercialize it. Unless someone has a financial interest in the propagation of the technology, nobody will use it. If you want to change the world, you almost have to start a company to do it.

Here’s what I mean. When we first discovered this, I was sure that other people would want to use this too, so I gave grand rounds on it at Children’s Hospital Philadelphia, where we set up an eye tracker. Afterward, we got about 18 phone calls from pediatric concussion specialists saying, “We want one, too.” The problem is, a single lab can’t do that at 18 different sites; we didn’t have the resources to scale like that. If we wanted to make this available to every neurologist, pediatrician and emergency room physician, how do you do that? The easiest way is to commercialize.

KS: How is this different from what doctors previously did to diagnose brain injury?

When patients come in and we find something abnormal in the eye tracking, they’re often relieved to be validated, if all their previous tests were normal, but their symptoms were not. The first step in being able to treat something is being able to detect it.

KS: What challenges have you encountered along the way? How have you overcome them?

As a company, our biggest challenge is it’s a competitive landscape with a lot of noise. There are eye-tracking technologies out there that don’t work, and people have known it for a long time. That’s a problem, because they continue to act as if they can do what we can do. Our challenge is to demonstrate that our algorithms are completely, dramatically different, and that’s why we get the results that we get.

KS: What’s coming up next for your company? Any big milestones on the horizon?

Ultimately, 10 years from now, all care will be algorithmic. From a patient perspective, you will have access to things at your home that you never had access to before. The role of the doctor is going to evolve, and there is going to be a huge role for algorithmic technologies in changing people’s lives.

Right now, though, we’re not a consumer device. We are a medical company first and foremost, and our initial FDA clearance will be for use under the supervision of a physician.

KS: What advice do you have for early-stage founders?

For example, optometrists have been very embracing of this technology, but there are sometimes others in the field who have a hard time with the idea that a computer could detect abnormal eye movements better than a human.

KS: Tell us about your experience with Golden Seeds. How has the Golden Seeds network been helpful to you?

When we did our official first seed round in 2015, Golden Seeds was extremely helpful in making introductions and raising money with their network. They have really opened doors for us, and I’m grateful to them. They’re earnest about wanting to help Oculogica grow.


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