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Safeguard drops $25M on chip-enabled eyeglasses

Eyeglasses are about to change dramatically, thanks to a major investment by Safeguard Scientifics. The Wayne-based holding company, in an effort to expand its footprint in life sciences investments, announced that it has provided $25 million plus an additional $10 million in venture debt to PixelOptics, a medical technology company in Roanoke, Va., for its emPower! line of chip-enabled glasses aimed at bifocal and progressive lens wearers, of which there are a total of 100 million in the US alone. Safeguard's Senior Vice President and Managing Director in the Life Sciences Group, Gary Kurtzman MD, notes that investment in life sciences start ups is shrinking, and Safeguard is seeking new opportunities by getting into consumer-driven companies like PixelOptics.

Rather than divide eyeglasses so that the top section is corrective and the bottom section is for reading, emPower! glasses rely on a chip embedded in the frame which electronically transforms the focus of the entire lens from corrective to reading power at a touch. The chip is powered by a battery which lasts at least two years and requires recharging every three days.

Kurtzman says the new eyeglass technology has significant near term potential both as a product and for revenue, citing a low regulatory bar, a big market, and the fact that the product is ready to go to market. "We think it has all the features of an ideal investment," says Kurtzman of PixelOptics' new product, the result of 12 years of research.

Kurtzman, who is already wearing a pair of the glasses, is impressed that he can use the entire lens for either purpose. "There is a small liquid crystal embedded in the glass of the lens. If I need it, I turn it on and it's there." He reports that the glasses are the same weight as their conventional counterparts, and the company is initially rolling out 36 different frames, competitively priced, in a variety of shapes and colors. Kurtzman says emPower! frames will be available in the Philadelphia area within six months.

Source: Gary Kurtzman MD, Safeguard Scientifics
Writer: Sue Spolan
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