Have fun and listen to what people are telling you

RetinAI develops products to make research and health institutions more efficient

Please introduce yourself and your startup RetinAI to our readers!

I’m Carlos, co-founder and CEO of RetinAI. I have a PhD in machine learning and medical imaging in ophthalmology from University of Lausanne (UNIL), but I conducted my PhD mostly between University of Bern, UNIL and Imperial College London as part of a Swiss grant to promote PhD Mobility. Before that I was working for many years in parallel to doing my studies in Telecommunications Engineering in Barcelona and later at EPFL. 

Perhaps not so relevant: I practiced Taekwondo for 21 years competing at semi-professional level all over Europe, I play a bit of violin and also run a few days a week.

How did you get the idea to RetinAI?

2 years ago, towards the end of our PhDs, we realized about something with my co-founders: all the research we had done in the lab combining artificial intelligence and healthcare was never going to be used by the people who need it the most, and that was quite sad. We decided to take action and created a company with the vision to change the paradigm of eye care analysis. And we realized about the market potential and the biggest challenges, and realized how AI could support achieving these goals better than ever before, that’s when we created RetinAI. We had been working as a team before in programming competitions (Hackzurich 2014), which allowed us to know each other better and see if we could work as a team under pressure.

How difficult was the start and what challenges you had to overcome?

At the beginning we basically put all our efforts and savings into this company. It took some time, sacrifice and a lot of try-and-error, however, our work to develop the business started showing some success after signing the first contracts with a hospital in 2017.. The first contract is always the most difficult! Today we have customers in pharma, medical device manufacturing & hospitals. 

One of the biggest challenges you need to overcome is precisely education on new technologies: you need to educate your customers into understanding the value of the product you’re selling and why it can help them do their job better. This is still a work in progress. Other important challenges that we are facing are regulations and access to the already existing complex infrastructure from hospitals and healthcare institutions. 

Who is your target audience?

We are focusing mostly on B2B. Our main target audience are eye healthcare professionals, including hospitals, private clinics, pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers.

What is the USP of your startup?

RetinAI develops products to make research and health institutions more efficient using latest technologies in machine learning and computer vision. We build software tools to collect, organise and analyse health data from the eyes, empowering communities of healthcare professionals and patients with unique data analysis. To achieve this goal, we integrate our solutions inside the customer server infrastructure and into medical devices, interconnecting the whole clinical pipeline and reducing the time and cost it takes to do clinical and research work, enabling our users to optimise their efforts and to provide a better care.

Can you describe a typical workday of you?

My day starts at 7.00 am, I live in Lausanne (I love the lake), thus, I take the train every day to go to Bern to work. At ~9 I’m at the office with my espresso coffee ready and I spend the morning taking care of the most complex things for the day or making phone calls. At 12 the whole company goes for lunch, it the best moment for team building! In the afternoon we have meetings and may take care of open points that may require discussions with other team members. Quite often I work till late or connect to other customers in the rest of the World, nevertheless, I try to do some pause for sports (running / short intense interval training) to keep myself healthy. At night I normally read the news, a book or enjoy watching one of the TV series of the moment.

Where do you see yourself and your startup RetinAI in five years?

I think we are going to grow significantly in the next years, specially once our product are certified as medical devices, one of our main goals. In a few years will be in a great position to provide new digital solutions combining technology with medicine and will be able to optimise current treatment strategies, supporting the development of patient-specific treatment for a fraction of the current cost. I think RetinAI could become one of the strong players in the field of AI in ophthalmology, possibly enabling the industry for mass-population retinal image screening and monitoring of eye diseases and other disorders. I want to be part of this effort as much as possible.

What 3 tips would you give other Start-up founders on the way?

I think one of the most important things you need to do is to find a team (perhaps 2 more people) that you would feel comfortable starting a company with. You need to share your idea with a team you can trust and you need to let them jump in, because, if they are the right people, they will make your idea iterate and become better with constant feedback.

The second piece of advice is to talk multiple people or fellow entrepreneurs who have started a company in the area where you want to develop your business (in Switzerland, for instance) and let them give you advice on how to do these first baby steps or even discuss more complex problems along the way. Their wisdom and experience may help you not committing mistakes, similar to a big brother. Switzerland also provides training for entrepreneurs to be via courses such as Innosuisse, I believe it is a great initiative!

The last piece would be: have fun and listen to what people are telling you. Remember why you’re building a startup and let yourself navigate this new environment openly, try, iterate and remember to listen to the market and people around you. You have an opportunity to make something great and the flexibility of capturing opportunities faster than big companies simply because you’re small. Don’t let this advantage fade away!

More information you will find here

Thank you Carlos for the Interview

Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.

Sabine Elsässer

Sabine Elsässer is founder and chief editor of the StartupValleyNews Magazine. She started her career at several international direct sale companys. Since 2007 she works main time as a journalist. While that time she learned more about the Startup Scene, what made her start her own Startup Magazine the StartupValleyNews.

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