The Talent Unleashed Awards have shone a light on some of the world’s most innovative businesses since their launch in 2013, with the Best Social or Community Impact Startup category in particular uncovering companies doing groundbreaking work to change the world.

One such company is Auckland-founded social enterprise startup oDocs Eye Care, founded by ophthalmologist Dr Hong Sheng Chiong in 2014. As Dr Hong puts it, the healthtech’s mission is to reduce the prevalence of preventable blindness by making eye care accessible and affordable.

According to Vision 2020 Australia, more than 453,000 Australians were living with vision impairment or blindness in 2016 – but 90 percent of blindness or vision impairment is preventable or treatable. The statistics are even worse in developing countries, where access to healthcare is particularly poor.

To enable greater access to eye care, oDocs has created a portable diagnostic eye exam system that works by linking its hardware to a smartphone’s inbuilt camera, empowering people to easily conduct an eye test anywhere around the world.

“Conventional equipment cost tens of thousands of dollars, our solution costs just a hundredth of that. We embrace open learning and self empowering, therefore we made our design open-source and it is the world’s number one open-source smartphone retinal camera,” Dr Hong said.

With 10,000 downloads of its smartphone ophthalmoscope on Github already, the social enterprise was able to further its message by winning the title of Best Social Impact Startup at the Talent Unleashed Awards in Sydney in 2016.

According to Dr Hong, the team was encouraged to apply after doing some research and seeing the illustrious community surrounding the Awards; from judges including Steve Wozniak and Sir Richard Branson to innovative alumni such as CareMonkey, ACEHearing, and Temando, Dr Hong said they quickly realised just how “prestigious” the Awards are.

“The application was easy; Talent made it simple with just four major questions to gather all the essential information,” Dr Hong explained.

“Developing the pitch was the challenge. We were given only three minutes to present our idea and business and it took us nearly two full weeks to get them ready; however, going through that process also made us see our goal clearly. It was like the plan got real and made more sense.”

The time and effort put into preparing the pitch paid off, with Dr Hong saying winning the Award for best social impact startup was “a huge thing” for oDocs.

“Our business and names were suddenly associated with giants like Sir Richard Branson and Steve Wozniak. It has definitely put us on the map. It also gives our customers a boost of confidence in our company and products.”

oDocs has been able to leverage the association with names like Branson and Wozniak, with quotes from both on the power of the startup’s products serving as key testimonials on its website – it doesn’t get much better than the cofounder of Apple and the man behind Virgin talking up your tech.

But the connections oDocs made through the Talent Unleashed Awards go beyond even Branson and Wozniak, however – the group of winners were taken on a trip to Silicon Valley, where they visited the campuses of tech giants including Google, Facebook, Tesla, and Airbnb.

“The trip gave us an opportunity to connect and share our story…the experience was priceless,” Dr Hong said.

“Through that trip, we have formed a technological partnership with another mobile technology startup from San Francisco, which is a major step forward in terms of research and development.”

Since winning at the Talent Unleashed Awards last year, oDocs has successfully launched its commercial products, and is now expanding into India and China, where there is a strong need for its affordable eye care exam system.

As entries for this year’s Awards open, Dr Hong said he would strongly encourage startups to apply and make the most of the opportunity.

“Believe in your company and your mission. Pitch it like telling a story and you will win the audience and the judges.”

Is entering the 2017 Talent Unleashed Awards part of your journey? Check out the categories and enter here.

Image: Hanna Eastvold-Edwins, Steve Wozniak and Hong Sheng Chiong. Source: Supplied.

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