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SBIR Pulse: 2016 Tibbetts Awards Special Edition (Q&A with EnChroma CEO and Cofounder, Andy Schmeder)
Each year, the government’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) programs makes Tibbetts Awards to a select group of U.S. entrepreneurial companies who exemplify the best in the spirit and intent of the programs. The 2016 Tibbetts Award Ceremony was held on January 10, 2017, in the Indian Treaty Room of the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The ceremony featured remarks by the SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet and showcased 37 small businesses who have demonstrated strong commercial success with the development of their technologies in areas such as health, energy, defense, and education. To highlight a few of these companies and learn more about how “America’s Seed Fund” is driving innovation and societal impact, SBIR Pulse is publishing a special series focusing on Tibbetts awardees.
SBIR Pulse Interview #16: A Q&A with EnChroma CEO and Cofounder, Andy Schmeder
EnChroma is dedicated to positively impacting the lives of the estimated 300 million people worldwide with color vision deficiency. EnChroma has developed a line of innovative eyewear products with cutting-edge optical technology for men, women and children with currently over 65,000 consumers. Based in Berkeley, California, EnChroma emerged from a National Institutes of Health SBIR grant designed to study the feasibility of helping people with color vision deficiency (CVD).
SBIR Pulse: Congratulations on winning a 2016 SBIR Tibbetts Award! What does this mean for EnChroma?
Andy: Winning a Tibbetts Award is wonderful validation for all the hard work and sweat our team has put into developing EnChroma glasses for the color blind. It also serves to inspire and motivate us even more as we strive to make all the colorful moments in life – from aesthetics to safety to the everyday experiences people with standard color vision typically take for granted – more accessible to the color blind.
SBIR Pulse: Can you describe how and why EnChroma got started?
Andy: EnChroma launched to help improve the lives of the estimated 13 million color blind people in the US, and 300 million worldwide. Our goal is make more of life’s colorful experiences accessible to the one in 12 men (8%) and one in 200 women who suffer from color vision deficiency.
SBIR Pulse: How did the awards from the SBIR program help support the growth of EnChroma?
Andy: The grants from the SBIR gave EnChroma the funding and support to collaborate with vision scientists at the universities of California at Berkeley and Davis to conduct clinical trials on our glasses. The SBIR’s support also gave us the latitude to vigorously focus on the science of color vision deficiency, and hone and further the technology behind our glasses, as opposed to being distracted by shareholders emphasizing financial milestones.
SBIR Pulse: What have been the keys to EnChroma gaining adoption and commercial traction in the marketplace?
Andy: Some significant steps in EnChroma gaining traction in the market was the successful development of a polycarbonate version of our lens, which we released in late 2014. Previously, our glasses were made of glass. This opened up the pediatric and sportswear markets, and attracted optometrists because our lenses could be made in prescription eyewear. In addition, awareness of EnChroma exploded due to high-profile media coverage, marketing campaigns with companies like Clorox, Valspar paint and L’Oreal, and from numerous videos going viral of users having powerful, evocative experiences trying our glasses for the first time.
SBIR Pulse: Looking ahead, what do you think the future holds for EnChroma?
Andy: We plan to continue to expand awareness of our glasses, advocate for the needs of the color vision deficient population, and delve deeper into the many settings in which our glasses can assist them. In the near future, we anticipate offering a contact lens version of EnChroma and rolling out more styles of frames.
You can follow EnChroma on Twitter at @EnChroma and watch videos of people experience color for the first time on their YouTube channel at EnChromaInc.
The interview was produced by Amber Chaudhry, Presidential Management Fellow at the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Investment and Innovation and Edward Metz, Program Manager of the SBIR program at the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.
About SBIR Pulse
SBIR Pulse provides interviews with individuals from the different corners of the high-tech, start-up ecosystem. The intent is to share various perspectives on how SBIR impacts small businesses, drives innovation, and leads to technological solutions. For more editions of SBIR Pulse, see here.
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are collectively the largest single source of early-stage capital for innovative small companies in the United States. Via these programs, the federal government invests over 2 billion dollars in early stage and high growth American entrepreneurial firms to develop and commercialize technologies that strengthen our nation's defense, improve the health of our citizens, and enhance education. For more information on the program across the 11 Federal agencies that operate programs, please visit www.SBIR.gov. For timely updates and resources follow us on Twitter @SBIRgov (link is external) to stay connected!