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'We turned down Dragons' Den offers - our eyecare company is worth £7m now'

The stories you don't know about some of the world's best and little-known brands

Dhruvin Patel has 20/20 vision and doesn’t wear spectacles. Yet, he wants to protect 10 million eyes by 2025 through his eyecare business, Ocushield, after bootstrapping the first product from his university dorm 10 years ago.

In 2014 he was working at Vision Express to gain industry experience and much-needed funds while studying to become an optometrist at City University. One weekend, the lead optometrist gathered staff with a new product for individuals who wore spectacles, explaining that it was a blue coating which would limit eye strain.

“I was amazed by this as my mum always told me that looking at screens was bad for your eyes,” says Patel. “She never really had a reason for it other than sit back or stay away.”

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Back at university, he was granted permission to do a research project on whether blue light was causing eye strain, headaches, suppressing melatonin and making it harder to fall asleep after screen time.

With screens continually getting bigger and wider, Dhruvin wanted to find a way to use the technology to put over screens with his range of blue light shields for devices and glasses.

A university grant gave him the funds to launch his first product, effectively the world’s first medically-registered screen filters to go over laptops or phones.

Ocushield’s online eye test aims to improve access to eye care and help detect potential eye problems early.
Ocushield’s online eye test aims to improve access to eye care and help detect potential eye problems early.

A grant competition at Cass Business School saw Patel convince 100 of his fellow students to come to the last lecture of the day and vote for him after his pitch. His subsequent win allowed him to secure 1,000 pre orders and the capital to manufacture a first run of products.

Three years after launching at university, he made the "leap of faith” and went full time into the business.

“The best school for business is just doing it,” he says. “I applied for a Virgin StartUp Loan, didn’t take the funding but took the mentorship in finance and business strategy. It helps you proceed at what you are doing rather than hitting in the dark and gives you a structure and sounding board.

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“We had the benefit of knowing the screen protector market was established. But we had the secret ingredient. Working on a product with an element of dye and reflective coating and putting it into a form of screen protection, we knew we could quickly find manufacturers.”

Patel admits he remained focused on staying as an authority in the market, with competition becoming tighter. Registering their products in the UK and US, he adds: “We know healthcare consumers trust products from this environment rather than a random brand on Amazon.”

Ocushield's optomotrists showcased their anti blue light screen protectors on Dragons' Den.
Ocushield's optomotrists showcased their anti blue light screen protectors on Dragons' Den.

Ocushield now offers a range of products to help reduce the effects of blue light emitted from digital devices, such as glasses, lamps and masks. Having secured £1.3m in fresh funding, Patel and business partner Asad Hamir have also launched an online eye screening solution.

Through selling their core products to employees like Meta, AON and Charles Tyrwhitt, they surveyed 2,000 HR directors on what they offered employees. Ocushield’s optometrists discovered a low pick up on eye testing and soon developed an idea to develop an eye screen test in under seven minutes.

“In the UK, 24% have never had an eye exam or not had one in the last five years. That’s 16 million people alone,” says Patel.

“We want to make eyecare accessible and make it an important health topic as other areas are at the moment.

"Our job is to push eyecare to the front of the line; by 2050 age-related macular degeneration will be the biggest cause of irreversible blindness in the world.

Ocushield is B Corp Certified and was a 2023 recipient of the King’s Award for Enterprise.
Ocushield is B Corp Certified and was a 2023 recipient of the King’s Award for Enterprise.

“It’s about having purpose. If I didn’t want to help people and impact them I would lose motivation pretty quickly. But I want to protect 10 million eyes by 2025, I know that challenges will come every day and it's about how to solve them.”

All this after the Ocushield duo appeared on Dragons’ Den in 2021. The dragons saw immediate potential in Patel’s products which sparked a bidding war, but they eventually turned down offers after six months of negotiations.

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“It was daunting and incredible,” Patel says today. “We saw massive success from being on the show.”

Indeed, Ocushield is now valued at £7m, while the business has visions to hit £21m in revenue in three years’ time.

Patel says his own healthy vision is down to a “combination of genetics and using Ocushield products.” He adds: “But for us, it’s about helping further support eyes to thrive.”

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