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Digital Edition of VM 2012 Summit

Read the Digital Edition of VM's Global Summit

Innovation. New technology. Disruptive competition. These were some of the themes that resonated with the 300-plus attendees at the 6th Annual VM Global Leadership Summit. Click here to read VM's Digital Edition recapping the day's events as well as video highlights of the five sessions featuring insights from both speakers and attendees.

Slideshow of VM 2012 Summit

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Vision Monday held its 6th Annual Global Leadership Summit

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Video Highlights of the VM 2012 Global Leadership Summit Event!

Get a small taste of the atmosphere and buzz resonating at the 6th Vision Monday Global Leadership Summit, held on March 21 at The Times Center in New York. Hear what attendees are saying about this idea-shaping event and find out why innovation is today's new business "normal."

New Trends, Technologies With ‘Innovation Everywhere’

NEW YORK—The 6th annualVision Monday Global Leadership Summit delivered on its theme of “Innovation Everywhere,” presenting what at times seemed to be science fiction turned science fact to the hundreds of optical executives in attendance. Topics presented by this year’s speakers covered amazing new technologies, such as an iPhone attachment that allows the users to conduct refractions and an artificial retina that enables the blind to see. Other speakers tackled innovative trends in the health care and the optical fields specifically as well as changes in business in general that promise to disrupt the way we do business…if they haven’t done so already.

Fitting the “Innovation Everywhere” theme, the lead sponsor of this year’s event, Essilor was named among The World’s Most Innovative Companies by Forbe’s magazine. Supporting sponsors of the VM Summit were Alcon, CareCredit, DAC Vision, Luxottica, Shamir and International Vision Expo.

To illustrate how disrupting innovations might come from unexpected places, Marc Ferrara, CEO of Jobson Medical Information, opened the Summit by announcing that Jobson was going to launch its own line of 20/20 Eyewear. Although the audience soon realized that he was only kidding, they got the message that dramatic changes could come from anywhere to impact their businesses in unexpected ways.

After the audience regained its composure following this hoax, Marge Axelrad, senior vice president editorial/editorial director of Vision Monday then introduced the summit speakers who filled the day with discussions of the real trends and innovations affecting today’s optical business. The first panel covered the “Innovation Mandate,” and featured Mickey McManus, president and CEO of MAYA Designs; John Shagoury, president of Eliza Corporation; and Bart Foster, founder and CEO of SoloHealth.

Representing MAYA Designs’ technology and innovation lab, McManus spoke to why innovation matters today and said the three components of developing innovation depends on creativity, agility and insight. “It all comes back to solving a real person’s problem and figuring out where they fit in.” He said people aren’t always able to catch up with the ever-changing wave of technology. “But this is where innovation can happen, when you figure out how to close the gap between the information and the people.”

A leading provider of integrated health care communications, Eliza Corporation’s Shagoury continued the “people” thread started by McManus and said, “It’s all about engaging people and focusing on more coordinated trends.” He stressed the value of personalizing health care communications and said, “Patients need to know the message is for them. It’s all about meeting them where they are, adapting to their needs so they don’t have to change their behavior, and making the delivery acceptable to patients.”

Foster, founder and CEO of SoloHealth, featuring the next generation of health care kiosks, referred to the self-service environment of ATMs, store check-outs and hotel check-ins, saying “self-service health care is coming.” The kiosks are their own “ecosystem” which can empower people to start the diagnosis process (through BMI, BP readings, vision screening) and find a local doctor or OD. “There is an opportunity for the eyecare industry to be part of the overall health care system. We are entering a period of hyper growth and our biggest challenge may be what not to do,” he said.

The reality that what was once science fiction is now science fact was clearly illustrated by the next session on “Innovation and the Eye,” presented by Ramesh Raskar, PhD, co-founder of EyeNetra and associate professor at MIT Media Lab; Steve Willey, co-founder and CEO of Innovega; Barbara Barclay, general manager of Tobii North America; and Jim Little, VP of R&D for Second Sight.

Raskar, speaking about Netra, a low cost mobile system his team developed that uses a cell phone and simple hardware attachment to perform an accurate visual acuity test, said, "More than 4 billion people are walking around with a mobile, scientific instrument in their pockets. We've invented not just a diagnostic system for refraction but a new ecosystem. Instead of shining a light into the eye, we're exploiting high resolution LCDs that can measure refraction in a few seconds. Our system is completely digital. There are no moving parts, no electricity. It takes measurements comparable to other instruments. We have the technology to disrupt the eyeglass industry. We're not part of that industry, though, so we have to close that loop."

Raskar’s team also developed Catra, a low cost, mobile system to detect cataracts. "It’s like a weather map. We can give you a map of the cloudiness in your eye," he said about Catra.

Willey then presented Innovega’s video eyewear. "Mobile devices are limited to a three- to four-inch screen. Our eyewear-based displays, based on our patented iOptik contact lens system coupled with our stylish, video eyewear gives the wearer an immersive viewing experience and anytime, everywhere media access. The iOptik contact lens features a tiny ‘lenslet’ for viewing the display. It's the secret sauce that we'll provide to eyewear and contact lens OEMs. We believe the video eyewear is the natural bridge from the optical industry to the consumer electronics industry.”

Barbara Barclay, speaking about Tobii's proprietary eye tracking technology, said, "The eyes are the mirror of the mind. In two years, eye tracking technology will be in every computer. It will change the way we interact with everything, including health care. Most e-commerce sites use eye tracking in their design. It reveals whether the viewer did not see certain portions of the site, or whether they saw and ignored it. In a retail environment, eye tracking collects eye data points when people are looking around a store. It can quantify the amount of time you've looked at something so you can see how people are shopping. Our eyes reveal when we are thinking and reading. They reveal the impact of a store or site design.”

Jim Little presented Second Sight's Argus II Retinal Prothesis System, which restores vision for people blinded by outer retinal degenerations. "Retinal prostheses are at the intersection of medicine and technology. We have been able to restore some sight to people. It's not beautiful vision, but it's a place to start. Most patients get some benefit. We still have to improve the resolution of the image. It's like in 1985, when the first cochlear implants came on the market. People said it was just an aid to lip reading. But now, they've improved the implants to the point where patients can distinguish notes on a piano."

Robert Safian, editor and managing director of Fast Company magazine, in his afternoon session on “Lessons of Innovation,” said, “The most important skill in the age of flux is the ability to add new skills. Nostalgia is a trap. It is not helpful to be stuck on what worked before; we have to move forward. Do not pigeonhole yourself or your business about what it is or where it might go. We can change people’s perceptions of us and the things that we do if we focus on the possibilities. On a broad scale, our growth economically and on societal level continues to come from new ideas and people who continue to innovate.”

What’s next in e-commerce was covered in the “Digital Commerce Innovations” session by John Graham, general manager of Glasses.com and David Geipel, founder of Qwasi, Inc.

“It comes down to: figure out what you do well, and do it really well,” said Graham. “If the customer needs something that you do not do well, either figure it out or find someone who does. Just remember to start with the customer and work backward—eventually you’ll do the right thing”

“Today’s consumers are highly engaged; they are using technology to find their services,” said Geipel. “As a business, you have to have a mobile strategy. So how can you work to make that as seamless for them as possible? Keep in mind that Facebook and Twitter are not really free—it does take time and money to adequately convey the unique look, feel and voice of your brand.”

Closing out the day was a session on “Maintaining an Innovative Edge in Vision Care,” presented by Alan Ulsifer, OD, CEO, president and chair of FYidoctors; William “Buzz” Hollis, president and CEO of Doctors Vision Center; and Don Bye, VP of Optical Services for Shopko.

Describing the formation and evolution of FYidoctors in Canada, Ulsifer explained how his practice met with nine other practices in western Canada in June 2006 to discuss independent optometry and to “talk about a new technology called free-form.” The practices seized the “unique opportunity to consolidate” and merged the practices to become one company known as FYidoctors. He described it as a unique business model that lends itself to easy growth.

In addition to merging the practices, FYIdoctors also invested in its own free-form optical lab as well as a warehouse to facilitate national distribution. Future plans for FYIdoctors include launching a business-to-consumer website. FYIdoctors now consists of 102 locations, 250 ODs, and 1,200 employees, and it general $137 million in revenue in 2011. Even with this dramatic growth, “the doctors still call the shots,” said Ulsifer.

Discussing how Doctors Vision Center has achieved and maintains the success that has grown the chain to 43 offices in North Carolina and Virginia, Hollis the challenges and market factors affecting the optical business today. The challenges include “fear of being commoditized, sustaining profitable growth, leveraging both medical and optical, and how to measure and manage,” while some of today’s market factors are “the pace of technology and access to information, communication channels, patient expectations, reimbursement and regulations, and the fact that change is constantly constant.”

Yet, “we see every challenge as a new opportunity,” he said, and described how he used social media to promote two trunk shows in North Carolina, one “where furniture is made” and the other in Wilmington, that earned $33,000 net and $41,000 net respectively. “That’s incremental income to us,” he said, explaining, “We’re not a buying group; we’re a selling group. We want to deal with our preferred vendors.

Hollis added that the facts of optical practices remain the same today as they have over the years: “The most successful practices are those that are involved in their community.”

After a brief history of Shopko, which started in 1962 at the same time as Walmart and Kmart, Bye explained that this year Shopko is merging Pamida’s 193 locations with Shopko and “the challenge this year is to evaluate all Pamidas and decide where it makes sense to add optical.” Because most locations are located in communities with a population of less than 12,000, “when adding optical it’s tricky to find a full-time OD,” he said.