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'A Decade of Realising Dreams' Series

Episode 1: Jackson Leung From VST

Semi-retired Alumnus Turns PolyU Research into Hit Merchandise that Slows Myopia Progression

半退休理大舊生創業 科研變產品 助學童減慢近視加深

We are not starting a business to make money. We earnestly wish to promote research findings of PolyU and benefit more people.

我們創業已不是為賺錢,最大的願望是將理大科研的成果向外推銷,讓更多人受惠。

Jackson LEUNG 梁子文

Co-founder, Vision Science and Technology Company Limited 共同創辦人

vsthk.com

The interview with Jackson Leung Tze-man took place at PolyU Optometry Clinic, to which he is no stranger. ‘I was from the first class of graduates of PolyU’s School of Optometry in 1987.’ That was the first thing he uttered in our stroll along the iconic brick-red walls.

相約梁子文(Jackson)於理大眼科視光學診所做訪問,於他感覺並不陌生。在紅磚牆外遊走時,他劈頭第一句就說:「我是1987年第一屆眼科視光學院畢業生。」

The alumnus in Optometry has spent years working in the optical industry after leaving his alma mater. But as retirement edges closer, he had the opportunity to open a start-up with his former classmate Professor To Chi-ho, Chair Professor of Experimental Optometry at the School of Optometry, to market the Defocus Incorporated Soft Contact (DISC) lens that helps to slow myopia (short-sightedness) progression in children aged 6 to 18 by 60%. ‘We are not starting a business to make money. We earnestly wish to promote research findings of PolyU and benefit more people’, says Jackson.

視光學「老鬼」畢業後往外拼搏多年,將近踏入退休階段,卻遇上機會跟大學同學兼現任眼科視光學學院講座教授杜嗣河教授一同創業,產品是杜教授研發多年的「光學離焦」軟性隱形眼鏡(DISC),有助減慢6至18歲學童近視加深速度達六成。「我們創業已不是為賺錢,最大的願望是將理大科研的成果向外推銷,讓更多人受惠。」梁子文說。

Jackson, in his 50s and semi-retired, used to serve a number of sizeable optical companies as a training and technical consultant. In 2014, Professor To, Jackson’s friend of so many years, suggested that he started a business and introduced the DISC lens developed by PolyU into the market. ‘Professor To has been dedicated to his research for more than 20 years, while my Master thesis in 1997 was also a myopia study. So we share the fascination with this subject.’

50多歲的梁子文曾於多間具規模的光學公司工作,擔任培訓及技術顧問,現處於半退休狀態。2014年,相識多年的杜嗣河教授建議他創業,將理所研發的「光學離焦」軟性隱形眼鏡製成產品,推出市場。「杜教授此科研已超過廿年,而我在1997年的碩士研究主題則是近視研究,所以都有一份情意結。」

DISC lens is a bifocal soft contact lens of concentric rings design, and comprises a series of alternating ‘correction zones’ (normal degrees) and the ‘defocusing zones’ (lower degrees) extending towards the periphery. Light going through the correction zones is focused on the retina to give the wearer a clear image, while light passing through the defocusing zones is projected in front of the retina. The out-of-focus image produces signals that would retard axial elongation of the eyeball, thereby slowing the progression of myopia.

「光學離焦」軟性隱形眼鏡特點是表面有很多個同一圓心的圓圈,並分成兩個度數,「正焦區」(正常度數)和「離焦區」(較低度數)以梅花間竹排列。進入正焦區的光線會聚焦於視網膜上,讓配戴者看到清晰的影像;進入離焦區的光線,會聚焦於視網膜的前方,給予眼球刺激信號,不要生長得太長,抑制眼球長度以減慢近視加深速度。

Big Companies Not Interested: ‘Better to Do it Yourself’

與公司洽談被拒 「不如自己做」

In 1998, Professor To led a team and initiated the research on myopia, beginning to trial ‘optical defocus’ in animal experiments for the control of myopia progression. ‘With encouraging results, we proceeded with clinical experiments on human.’ Solid academic research did not guarantee a success, however, as Professor To’s negotiations with several manufacturers for a partnership have failed one after the other. ‘At the time the market was not convinced that myopia can be controlled and they did not think such control was important, thus their lack of interest in commercialising the research.’

1998年,杜嗣河教授跟團隊開始近視研究,並開始利用動物實驗來試驗「光學離焦」控制近視,「數據好靚,所以就進行人類臨床實驗。」縱然學術研究有紮實的基礎,但杜教授坦言曾經向多間廠商洽談合作,最後均無功而還,「當時市場認為近視沒有方法控制,加上他們覺得不重要,所以對研究沒甚興趣。」

The frustration grew further when a four-year negotiation with a major corporate turned out fruitless. ‘Why don’t I do it myself? I raised my idea to Jackson.’ But Jackson noted turning a science research into a marketable product for the mass would bring on an array of practical and operational challenges. He took out a green box from his briefcase and said, ‘this is our first-generation product. You can’t disregard it if you want to know the whole story.’

杜教授曾經跟大企業洽談將近四年多,對方最後竟拒諸門外,令杜教授甚為不甘,「我當時想不如自己做,就跟Jackson 提起我的想法。」梁子文坦言,由科研發展成產品大量出售,則要面對各種實際的營運問題。他從公事包拿出了一個綠色盒子說:「這是第一代產品,要說故事的話就要提及它了。」

(left) Professor To Chi-ho, Chair Professor of Experimental Optometry at the School of Optometry, led the research team of DISC lenses.「光學離焦」軟性隱形眼鏡由眼科視光學學院講座教授杜嗣河教授(圖左)率領的團隊研發。

From A Theory to Merchandise

由理論變商品

The little box contains only one pair of the first-generation contact lenses, which are customised according to a child's eyeballs. Its launch had been met with huge popularity, but Jackson remarked that children would easily damage the contact lenses and the three-week lead time for customisation was also less than ideal for myopia control. ‘We wished to make disposable lenses, but the manufacturing cost was too high and we first settled with a customised version.’

眼前第一代隱形眼鏡每盒只有一副,是按兒童的眼球而訂製。縱然當年推出後反應熱烈,梁子文坦言,兒童容易弄壞隱形眼鏡,而訂製時間需時三星期,這對於控制近視的效果並不理想。「起初是希望做到即棄,但是製造的成本太高,所以先做訂製版本。」

Jackson added that save for cost control, they also had to look for a standardised production plant, verify its production inspection systems and certification systems, and ascertain that the products will pass the PolyU testing. The long list of requirements inevitably increased the time and difficulty of production. ‘We had to start from scratch for our production, certification and equipment systems, therefore it took us about two to three years to develop the first generation, while the second generation rolled out in just another year.’

梁子文補充,除了控制成本,他們還要尋找標準化生產的工廠,確認生產檢測系統、認證系統,還有確定產品必須通過理的測試,這各項標準均增加製作的時間及難度。「由生產、認證到配備系統都要重新開發,所以第一代大約研發了兩至三年,而第二代則一年多就成事了。」

Entrepreneurship Promotes PolyU’s Research Result

創業推廣理大科研成果

Unlike other start-up founders, Jackson appeared at ease in sharing the challenges of the early stage. Repeatedly he made it very clear that as a man heading for retirement, the significance of his business is more about popularising his alma mater’s scientific research achievement than seeking profit. ‘As an optometry graduate, without a doubt I have to bring such an outstanding invention of my department to the market.’ Jackson recalled that after launching the first generation of products, they reached out to local optometrists and had them give recommendations to consumers. ‘Network is also key, given that these optometrists are our seniors and juniors at PolyU.’

有別於其他創業者,梁子文談起過程的困難時,顯得較雲淡風輕。他多次強調,自己即將步入退休之年,眼前這盤事業的意義在於將學校的科研成就普及化,而非只為利潤。「自己於眼科視光學出身,學系有這麼優秀的研究,當然要推廣開去。」梁子文稱,第一代產品推出後,聯絡上本地的視光師,讓他們推薦給消費者選擇,「大家都是學兄學弟,所以人脈都很重要。」

People networking is crucial in the journey of entrepreneurship. Jackson recognised that the connections have also made the second generation possible. ‘It was a coincidence that we came to know a Taiwan producer that already owns moulds, equipment, etc., saving us a lot of expenses,’ explained Jackson. While the first-generation lenses were mainly sold in Hong Kong, their company has been certified to market the second-generation lenses in Mainland China to tap the much bigger market. ‘With a huge market, products of better quality and a favourable Chinese government policy on myopia control, sales of the second generation is looking great.’ As in September 2019, the start-up has already sold 50,000 boxes of the second-generation lenses in Mainland China, and the tally is expected to reach about 100,000 boxes by year end. ‘Our goal is to sell 1 to 2 million boxes, hopefully every child with myopia can wear our lenses.’ Leveraging their extensive people network, the company has secured financing close to HK$2 million in just three years in addition to the HK$1.1million funding support from PolyU, underscoring the investors' confidence in the prospect of the business.

人脈於創業旅途上甚為重要,梁子文說第二代的出現也是因為「識得人多」。「當時機緣巧合之下認識到台灣的生產商,當時對方已擁有模具、器材等等,這就省卻了大量成本。」梁子文解釋。第一代產品主要以香港為銷售對象,而第二代則擁有於內地銷售所需的認證,可面向龐大的市場,「除了市場龐大,我們的產品質量較好,加上中國政府將近視防控納入國策,第二代的銷量大為理想。」截至2019年9月,第二代於國內已售出5萬盒,並估計全年的銷售量將達至約10萬盒。「我們的目標是賣出100萬至200萬盒,希望有近視的兒童都能用到。」而藉着廣闊的人脈,公司成立短短三年來,除了理大累積資助的港幣110萬外,已獲得接近港幣200萬融資,足以證明投資者對團隊業務發展的信心。

 

 

 

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