BOUNTIFUL — Migraine prevention glasses won the day at the Silicon Slopes startup competition, beating out more than 100 startups that pitched their products in a bid to win $250,000 in seed funding.
The winning startup, Bountiful-based Axon Optics, makes the glasses, which are based on the research of two of the company’s co-founders, neuro-ophthalmologist Bradley Katz and professor of electrical and computer engineering Steve Blair, both at the University of Utah.
They had the help of the company’s third co-founder, Ben Rollins, an entrepreneur working for the university’s technology transfer office when he met them. In that role, Rollins was tasked with helping researchers commercialize and license the technologies they were developing. He’s been with Axon Optics full time for more than five years now.
Katz studies why light causes pain, Rollins said.
“Everybody is sensitive to light. ... When you look at the sun, well, it hurts,” Rollins said. “But it turns out people with migraines are hypersensitive to light. ... What (Dr. Katz) found is that ... it’s only a small wavelength of light that actually aggravates and triggers these migraines.”
Katz developed a tint that can block the triggering light, Rollins said, though the glasses don’t block all of it, according to a detailed post on the company’s website describing the technology behind the glasses. Blocking all triggering light would make someone prone to migraines more sensitive to the light, the post says.
The company, made up of three partners and four employees, is small but growing, Rollins said.
Right now, Axon Optics is selling the glasses to consumers. While the glasses have research behind them, they don’t yet have the support of FDA clinical trials.
The company has been working to develop a more powerful, better looking lens, Rollins said. The $250,000 in seed funding will go toward FDA clinical trials of the new lens, which could make it possible for doctors to prescribe the glasses and health insurance plans to cover them.
“It moves us forward. It’s a big jump, to go to an FDA-approved ... medical device that can be prescribed by a doctor,” Rollins said.
In addition to blazing the trail in migraine prevention, the company is a trailblazer in Northern Utah, which historically hasn’t received much investment in technology startups.
When Rollins moved to Davis County from Lehi in 2018, the top four seed funds in Utah had made 214 investments in the state — but none in Davis and Weber counties, Rollins said.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for tech and startup to grow in Davis-Weber counties, and while we’ve been behind what’s going on at the Point of the Mountain, we have a lot of talent around here,” Rollins said. “I think we’re going to catch up.”
Axon Optics will get another shot at growth when Rollins heads to San Francisco in May to compete against almost 40 regional winners at the Startup World Cup. They’ll by vying for a $1 million grand prize.