Optometry startup sharpens focus on mobile care | Crain's Boston

Optometry startup sharpens focus on mobile care

With students returning to class and renters renewing their leases, September is a time for new beginnings. Next month, the Boston-based eye care startup 2020 On-site Optometry is also setting its sights on things to come—including an expansion to Chicago.

Howard Bornstein founded 2020 On-site two years ago, and since then the mobile eye-exam provider has garnered attention from big-name investors like Lee Linden, the former head of commerce at Facebook. To date, they've raised $7.9 million for their innovative approach to the long-staid optometry industry.

The company runs “mobile vision centers” that offer eye exams and optometry services through a fleet of trucks—cutely decorated with eyebrows over the wheel wells—instead of traditional eye doctor's offices. Patients can have their vision tested and buy contacts and glasses on board.

But don't call it a “food-truck” for eye exams.

“That can sell short the quality of our mobile vision centers,” Bornstein said. “The future of high-quality healthcare depends on having some form of a mobile model, and every healthcare provider will need to find ways to deliver care proactively and conveniently.”

The model is raising eyebrows at traditional eye care providers. In January, the former President of LensCrafters, Mark Weikel, joined 2020's board.

It's a unique proposition in the optometry industry, although not entirely new. A bevy of fitness and health apps have outsourced certain aspects of healthcare to millions of mobile phone users. That's an opportunity that 2020 is eyeing, too, with talk of an online store in the works. There's competition from vision startups that provide exams entirely online, but 2020 On-site's pitch is that their vans offer care at a higher quality than you can currently get over the internet.

Similar healthcare-on-wheels models have been proven by nonprofits providing dental and asthma care in under-served communities. But the business of mobile medicine is still nascent.

So far 2020 On-site's experience bodes well for its growth. The company numbers 32 full-time employees, plus two part-time employees and a team of co-op students. In September 2020 they're moving out of their South Boston location for a bigger office space in Downtown Crossing. The business itself is also on the move. In April, 2020 On-site trucks began roving Atlanta, and next month they're revving up for locations in Chicago.

And starting this year, Boston Public Schools is partnering with 2020 to supplement their existing vision care programs. The first day of school for BPS students is Sept. 8.

"Vision care can be extremely expensive, and this service will make a world of difference in the lives of our students and their families," School Committee Chairperson Michael O'Neill said in a statement.

So far the company's core clientele has been employees of other tech companies with whom 2020 has teamed up—a growing cast of corporate clients including the Boston offices of Pfizer, Wayfair and Microsoft. That's been lucrative because, according to the company, nearly three-quarters of their patients have either never gotten an eye exam or haven't seen an optometrist in more than two years.

“For people at companies, they often don't get eye exams because they're too busy,” said Bornstein, “but for students it's often because they don't have access to quality vision care or lack insurance.”

For Bornstein that's a business opportunity, of course, but he said it's also a mission.

“The fact that there are so many people struggling with vision issues that are left untreated is not acceptable in the modern age of healthcare."

August 22, 2016 - 5:15pm