Industry: Bioscience & Medical
Products: Contact Lenses
James Kirchner’s innovative contact lens relieves technology-induced eye strain, but vertical integration of the company's manufacturing operations is also catalyzing growth.
The founders of SynergEyes created a breakthrough in the design of the hybrid contact lens and brought their first product to market in 2005. "Our hybrid lens has been, and continues to be, a foundation of the company," says Dr. James Kirchner, the company’s current president and CEO.
The hybrid lens combines a hard center section with a soft skirt around the perimeter of the lens, providing better vision and comfort for wearers with certain eye problems that are difficult to correct.
This type of lens first appeared in the early 1980’s, but prior to SynergEyes’ patented and proprietary techniques, cracks and separation at the junction of the hard and soft materials prevented them from being a huge success. The company’s breakthrough continues to bear fruit. “We’re in our second generation of the hybrid lens and we’re working on a third generation of the technology,” says Kirchner
"We have a number of products that satisfy different visual and anatomical needs of the human eye,” he adds. “These are for both normal corneal patients that just need correction, as well as for those who have unique problems such as injuries, post-surgical problems, or disease."
New products seems poised for growth, as Kirchner believes that people are becoming more nearsighted due to the strain from viewing laptops, tablets, and mobile devices. "There are optical designs that we now know can halt, or at least dramatically slow down, the advancement of nearsightedness in a human being," says Dr. Kirchner. "That’s a big market going forward. By changing the design of a contact lens, or even glasses, we can harmonize the light that’s being focused inside the eye to take away strain and de-focus, so that there isn’t any incentive for the eye to grow longer, which is the problem with nearsightedness."
The company is meeting demand through a vertical integration of engineering and production, a proprietary approach that’s translated into a competitive advantage. All of the company’s research, development, and manufacturing is done at its Carlsbad California facility – including the manufacture of the polymers used in the lenses. According to Kirchner, this helps control costs, but more importantly, assures the proper chemical characteristics to meet their demands.
The overall manufacturing strategy may be more expensive, but in SynergEyes' case, quality sells. "We feel we are very competitive in price, nonetheless,” says Dr. Kirchner. “This is a highly technically produced lens, so we have higher costs compared to others that might be a simpler design. We don’t try to compete with commodity type lenses that are really for people who don’t have any issues except that they need to see a little bit better."
The approach has also translated into a workforce advantage: with so few employees in the market with prior experience in contact lens manufacturing, the company seeks out employees with similar skills from other industries to fill the company’s varied requirements. Employees become exposed to the full sweep of company operations, with the end result being a stable and well-trained workforce.
SynergEyes currently markets directly to eye care professionals in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the U.K. It uses a distributor network in other parts of Europe. Presently, about 80 percent of the company’s business is domestic. "I don’t see very many markets going forward that we would sell direct, as you’ve got to have a good size market," says Kirchner. "By and large, we would be working with distributors or partners to expand our presence globally."
Needs: Dr. Kirchner says the company needs to continue development of lens products designed to stem the tide of increased myopia, as well as presbyopia, the difficulty in changing focus between near and far objects.
Challenges: "Coming on board, I felt we needed to expand our portfolio of products," says Dr. Kirchner, "So we have initiated a program, a vision, and a business plan that over the next five years we’re expanding our range of contact lens products."
Opportunities: Dr. Kirchner knows that the area of growth is in Myopia Control. "We realize in the ophthalmic industry that the condition of myopia, or nearsightedness, is exponentially increasing in societies around the world," says Dr. Kirchner. "As human beings, we’re becoming exceedingly near-sighted, very quickly. It’s not just a nuisance, it’s a health risk. The more a person becomes more nearsighted, the more risk there is for retinal detachments, glaucoma, and macular diseases. It’s all driven by today’s technology where we’re living inside and looking at computer screens and hand-held devices."