Ophthalmologist's idea sparks invention

April 12, 2019

If you have a product idea, no matter how simple or elaborate, just go for it! You never know where it will lead you, says Joshua Mali, MD. 

Editor's Note: Welcome to Let's Chat, a blog series featuring contributions from members of the ophthalmic community. These blogs are an opportunity for ophthalmic bloggers to engage with readers with about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Joshua Mali, MD. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Ophthalmology Times or UBM Medica.

It started out like a regular day. I had a busy morning of clinic patients, and as I sat across my 9:00 a.m. patient in the exam room, I asked my usual history and review of pertinent ophthalmic symptoms. He noted everything was great and his vision was very stable. As I scooted towards him with my chair to the slit lamp microscope, I noticed he still had his glasses on.

I kindly requested that he remove his glasses for the exam. He took them off, looked around a bit while waving them around, and finally placed them very inconveniently in front of my slit lamp joystick. If I had started to use the microscope, it would have crushed his glasses.

He also realized that it was not an appropriate place for the glasses and then decided to quickly take them and put them on the side table. Unfortunately, in his haste, the glasses missed the table and fell to the floor.

We both looked at each other and he said, “Well, where should I put my glasses safely?”

That’s when it hit me: There should be a place that patients can place their eyeglasses safely and securely during the slit lamp microscope examination. That’s when the spark of inspiration occurred! I still had a busy clinic of patients, so I continued working but could not shake off that inspiration euphoria.

As I continued seeing more patients, I noted very similar scenarios like the earlier patient interaction. They put their glasses on the side of the slit lamp, in front of it, dropped them or even smashed them in their pocket. 

If you work in the eyecare fieldand are reading this, you have probably encountered this problem on a daily basis in your practice.

Inspiration

As I returned home, inspiration evolved into a true idea: design an eyeglass holder that could attach to the table of the slit lamp microscope (or frankly, any table). I sat at my desk and sketched out the first prototype.

From this, I went to my local hardware store to gather the raw materials and dusted off my tool set to produce the first prototype of the Mali Eyeglass Holder. After ensuring its utility and function in clinic, I then patented the idea.

The next step in the journey-and the most daunting-was developing the manufactur-ing process. There were a few principles that I wanted to uphold during this process: it had to be manufactured here in the USA, and I wanted to make sure it would be affordable for the mass public. After considerable efforts, I located a manufacturing facility just ten miles from my home with the highest quality standards.

While my family, friends, and patients thought it was a great idea, I wanted to see if I could achieve further validation from the eyecare community at large prior to releasing the product for mass distribution and retail sales.

That’s when I saw an advertisement for The Winning Pitch competition at the ASRS 2018 Annual Meeting, a “Shark Tank” for eyecare ideas. At this competition, I won Honorable Mention, which gave me the additional motivation to proceed in bringing my invention to the eyecare market.

Now that I had a viable product, the final portion of my journey was setting up an official company, Mali Enterprises. From this, I developed my e-commerce website and now sell the product online direct to consumers. In addition, I am exploring potential licensing opportunities and international distribution strategies. What started out as inspiration in clinic one day has now become a true industry with retail sales and a patented product.

Throughout the whole journey, my greatest inspiration, motivation, and support has been my lovely wife Yasmin and my amazing daughter Julia. Yasmin helped me through every step of the process, from design to development. With their love and support, I obtain my greatest strength, which is the confidence that I can achieve anything.

The other pillar of strength in my life is my religion, The Bahá'í Faith. It gives me a sense of purpose, a beacon of light to follow, and a strong foundation in my life. As an entrepreneur, one will face all types of challenges and it is how you respond to these and overcome them that will determine success.

One quotation that really helped me was: “Men who suffer not, attain no perfection. The plant most pruned by the gardeners is that one which, when the summer comes, will have the most beautiful blossoms and the most abundant fruit.”1

This has truly been an amazing and educational journey: taking an idea, making an invention, obtaining a patent, developing a manufacturing process, executing a marketing strategy, and building a company and brand that I am truly proud of is the American Dream.

My advice to anyone reading this is if you have a product idea, no matter how simple or elaborate, just go for it. You never know where it will lead you, sky’s the limit. Make sure to keep a laser-like focus and stay true to your values, thus allowing you to achieve your goals and be a successful entrepreneur.

Disclosures:

Joshua Mali, MD
E: malienterprisesglobal@gmail.com
Dr. Mali is a board-certified ophthalmologist and award-winning vitreoretinal surgeon at The Eye Associates, a private multispecialty ophthalmology practice in Sarasota, FL. Dr. Mali’s relevant financial disclosures include founder & CEO of Mali Enterprises. You can view his product demonstration here.

References:

1. Author: Abdu'l-Bahá. Paris Talks. Bahá'í Reference Library. http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/PT/pt-14.html. https://www.bahai.us/