Coming soon: Robotic eyewear selection by Wichita company

Chad Cox is the founder of Visibility Optics. His company has created software and a platform where optometry customers can try on glasses virtually.
Chad Cox is the founder of Visibility Optics. His company has created software and a platform where optometry customers can try on glasses virtually. The Wichita Eagle

Chad Cox hadn’t given the shape of his head much thought until he started a business based on head shapes.

“It’s sort of oval,” he said.

A year ago, he and his brother, Steven Cox, started Visibility Optics, a company that uses scanning technology to detect faces and suggest eyeglass frames.

It aims to bring some science to that moment when a customer gets out of an optometry exam, sits down to get new glasses and the optician asks them what they want. Different frames fit different faces better than others.

“There’s a proper way, even a style science of sorts, in which glasses are good for, say, a round face,” Chad Cox said.

“Most people don’t know. Instead they try on 100 different frames that may not be quite right.”

Cox, an experienced programmer based in Wichita, and his brother, an optometrist in Texas, were talking one day. His brother was telling him about how optometrists are worried about their glass and frame business.

Online suppliers, such as Warby Parker, he said, are now about 5 percent of the eyeglass market but promise to grow much larger, just as online companies have eaten into many other businesses.

Their solution: Install kiosks inside optometrist offices where customers, using an iPad, can have their face assessed by their program.

That’s where Vizzi comes in. Vizzi is an artificial intelligence program that maps 70 points on the face, and with a little information about the person, suggests five frames. The same operation can be done through Visibility Optics’s app available online.

“Online eyewear hasn’t taken off because you don’t have the ability to really try something on first,” Steven Cox said. “We’re trying to combine the best of both worlds: Try it online and be confident you will buy a pair of glasses that actually fit.”

They have 120 branded frame styles — 100 regular frames and 20 sunglass styles.

The promise of Visibility is such that it went through the e2e Accelerator’s first class in the fall, but it hasn’t taken off, yet. The brothers are still fine-tuning their business. At this point, they are piloting it in Steve Cox’s optometry practice, making it a beta site.

The basic technology works, and they’ve landed a manufacturer for their own line of eyewear. They are even looking into 3-D printing some of their frames to add more styles – without having any inventory – and really customize the frame.

Now, they are trying to get the pricing right, Chad Cox said. They are trying to convince optometrists, who will be the ones paying for the service, that this is worth the price they are asking.

“This is so new and different, it’s taking some time,” Chad Cox said.

Dan Voorhis: 316-268-6577, @danvoorhis

Business resources for startup companies

Wichita is overflowing with groups to advise, mentor and fund startup companies. Here are some of the available resources.

Basics to start a business

▪ Network Kansas: A good starting point. It’s a free, state-funded central portal to connect entrepreneurs and small business owners with expertise, education and money.

▪ Small Business Administration: A free federal agency that provides education and loan support.

▪ Kansas Small Business Development Center: It offers classes and one-on-one counseling for entrepreneurs.

▪ SCORE: A group of experienced businessmen and women who advise and mentor.

In-depth education and help

▪ Center for Entrepreneurship, Wichita State University: Offers a deep entrepreneurship education.

▪ WSU Ventures, Wichita State University: It helps advise and commercialize research.

▪ Kansas Global Trade Services: Offers assistance with exporting and importing.

Connecting with the local startup community

▪ Startup Wichita: A good starting point. It’s a list of names, events and resources for the startup community.

▪ 1 Million Cups: A casual, free event every Wednesday morning where entrepreneurs of all kinds make pitches.

▪ e2e Accelerator: An organization that seeks to be the focal point for all things entrepreneurial in Wichita. It also trains and funds more advanced startups.

▪ MakeICT: A place where hobbyists and craftsmen can use a wide range of serious equipment for projects. Membership required, but free open house every other Monday night.

▪ DevICT: An open group for computer coders and those who want to learn how to code, from beginners to experts.

Funding/incubator possibilities

▪ Midwest Venture Alliance: An investor in high-growth seed and early-stage companies.

▪ Wichita Technology Corporation: It invests in Kansas technology companies and provides business consulting.

For students interested in entrepreneurship

▪ Youth Entrepreneurs of Kansas: A full-year course in entrepreneurship in most area high schools.

▪ DECA: A business education and competition at high school level.

▪ Junior Achievement: A business education and competition.