Interview with Roman Axelrod, the founder of XPANCEO

Roman Axelrod is a guy with a vision, pun intended. A seasoned entrepreneur, his latest venture XPANCEO involves smart contact lenses with different use cases, health monitoring being one of them. If everything goes as planned, a few years from now - his smart contact lenses will non-invasively be tracking our health while offering actionable advice in real time based on the data gathered from our eyes. It's indeed a brave new world. Here's how Roman answered our questions...

Can you tell us a bit more about yourself? What's your background?

I am a seasoned entrepreneur and a passionate tech enthusiast who has made significant strides in the computer vision, eSports, and fintech industries. My career includes three successful business exits and expertise in negotiating and structuring deals totaling over $5 billion. I have helped multiple companies expand their operations into Western Europe, the US, and APAC.

Let's speak about XPANCEO. What is the market problem you want to solve and where do you see the opportunity?

XPANCEO aims to address several significant market problems through the development of our smart contact lenses. The primary issue we are tackling is the limitations and inconvenience of modern personal computing devices. Modern gadgets, such as smartphones and laptops, are heavy and fragile and can cause significant eye strain and other negative health effects due to prolonged screen use.

Our smart contact lenses are designed to revolutionize human-technology interaction and reshape the way we experience both the real and digital world. Users will be able to perform everything they currently do on smartphones and computers in an infinite XR, accessible anywhere in their surroundings.

Another important application of our lenses is to promote user health. Our smart contact lenses will turn the eye into a miniature laboratory, making health monitoring simpler and more convenient than ever before. The lenses can measure intraocular pressure, which when elevated, can lead to glaucoma — a condition often associated with blindness. They can also monitor cortisol and glucose levels, eye hydration, and more. Most importantly, the lenses can provide comprehensive practical recommendations, such as advising against coffee if the user's blood pressure is high. These features will not only enhance daily activities but also significantly improve health management, making our smart contact lenses a transformative solution in both technology and healthcare.

What are the features differentiating XPANCEO's offering from competitors?

Our lens radically differs from other solutions, particularly in the medical field. Most of the data we can obtain from analyzing tear fluid is currently only accessible through invasive methods like blood tests, or in clinical settings, such as intraocular pressure (IOP) measurements.

There have been several other attempts to develop smart contact lenses, but we are definitely driving the industry forward. Mojo Vision was the first to make the world believe it was possible, but then they shifted to microdisplays in 2023. Similarly, BlinkEnenergy, which introduced a battery solution in 2023, and InWith Corp, which last demonstrated some results in 2022, had no plans for medical applications.

Innovega also makes smart contact lenses, one of which aims to reduce eye strain, but their gadget requires glasses to function, depriving the device of many advantages. Sensimed Triggerfish addresses a critical medical need with a lens that measures intraocular pressure, but its functionality ends there and the lens can only be used in clinical settings.

When considered as a medical device, our lens offers solutions that are not only unmatched in the current market but also provide a level of convenience that is unparalleled. Our smart contact lenses can measure intraocular pressure, cortisol, glucose levels, eye moisture, and more — all non-invasively and in real time. This means that users can continuously monitor their health without the need for frequent hospital visits or invasive procedures, making health monitoring simpler and more accessible.

In summary, our smart contact lenses are not just a technological advancement but a significant leap in medical convenience and accessibility that sets us apart from the competitors in both form factor and functionality.

Can you share some numbers and achievements of XPANCEO?

We successfully raised $40 million, marking the second-largest seed round in the MENA region and the 24th-largest globally last year. Of this, $6 million was allocated to our laboratory in Dubai, where we have already showcased five prototypes of our smart contact lens.

Our team consists of 50 dedicated scientists and engineers, half of whom hold PhDs. Collectively, they have an impressive publication record of over 250 articles. Our scientific achievements have not gone unnoticed. By the end of 2023, we were ranked among the top 3 research institutions in the UAE, including universities, and were recognized as the top corporate research institution in Western Asia. Additionally, our team is listed among the top 5 optical labs in the world, according to BCG. In 2023, we received the Photonics Brilliance Award from the largest photonics society in the Emirates, Photonics ME.

As for business, we were honored with the Inc. Arabia Best in Business in Healthcare award for 2024 and the Globee Awards Startup Achievement of the Year. However, our main results are the prototypes we've showcased:

What are your medium-term plans?

We are dedicated to refining and perfecting the final prototype of our lenses. This includes enhancing the features demonstrated by all the prototypes we have already presented, including the IOP sensor, a contact lens for AR vision, electronic components, and others. We aim to start testing the final prototype by the end of 2026 and prepare for a market launch based on the results of these tests.

Our top priority is to complete pre-clinical and clinical testing of our smart contact lenses. We aim to meet all necessary regulatory requirements to ensure safety and efficacy. Following this, we plan to initiate human trials to prepare for mass production.

Do you have some advice for other entrepreneurs in the digital health space in MENA?

Strive to make as significant an impact on the world as possible. The MENA region is full of opportunities for those with ambitious goals. If you're working towards a transformative vision in healthcare here, you're already on the right path.

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