Winning 2014 Innovation Awards was pivotal moment in IRIS' success trajectory

By Ione Villegas, Innovation Coast Staff Writer

In 2014, IRIS was among the top 10 presenting finalists to compete in the Innovation Awards before a live panel of judges for cash prizes valued at more than $215,000.

Jason Crawford, CEO of IRIS, said the cash prize came at a critical time of growth for the company.

 “A big benefit of competing was that it forced us to think about the difficult questions that investors ask. In hindsight, the competition was one of the building blocks for where we are now. It armed us with the confidence to share our story with potential investors,” Crawford recalled.

Shortly after winning the Innovation Awards, IRIS successfully completed a small investment round. Since then, it has grown aggressively. With less than 10 customers at the time of the award, it now has 19 employees servicing 65 customers across the country. With an annual growth of three times in both customers and revenue, the company shows no signs of slowing down.

Founded by Dr. Sunil Gupta, a nationally-recognized retinal surgeon, IRIS is the leading technology provider of diabetic retinal exams for primary care. The IRIS team developed a proprietary cloud-based software and services platform for primary care physicians, enabling doctors to perform diabetic retinal exams for their patients with diabetes in the convenience of a primary care setting. In 2015, IRIS became the first and only diagnostic telemedicine platform in this space to receive Federal Drug Administration Class II medical device clearance.

Before working for IRIS, Crawford served in the U.S. Army during the initial occupation of Baghdad, Iraq. He said the $10,000 Landrum Veterans Award, sponsored by Landrum HR, will encourage more veterans to try their hand at becoming business owners. He knows firsthand that veterans have the experiences that can transfer to the business environment.

“Your ability to handle adversity is a great benefit,” he said. “Out in the field, we are used to taking action when we have only 70 percent of the information available. Not being afraid to act and see what happens is a great asset to starting a startup or small business.”

After his military career, Crawford worked at CPA and healthcare firms, but believes that starting IRIS really gave him a sense of purpose.

“With IRIS, I can make an impact in people’s lives by finding retinal disease before it robs them of their sight and livelihood,” he said. “Connecting passionately to something worthwhile has fueled my fire and the growth of the company.”

He encourages companies to leverage the coaching and mentoring services that are offered to Innovation Awards participants.

“For six weeks leading up to the competition, we had a business coach from the Florida SBDC at the University of West Florida helping us prepare speaking points and refine our message,” he said. “The 15-minute pitch that Dr. Gupta and I gave to judges at the Innovation Awards was great preparation for the four-hour due diligence and management presentations that we now give to potential investors.”

Crawford said he knows what it’s like for companies that want to keep their head down while executing their business.

“Sometimes you have to take your foot off the gas,” he said. “We took time to prepare for the Innovation Awards and to be rewarded for those efforts was a great achievement.”

This year, Innovation Coast is raising the stakes by offering $250,000 in cash, consulting and technical services. The competition also gives entrepreneurs who are veterans or community college or university students the chance to win special cash prizes. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to chart a new path for your business by registering for the Innovation Awards before Feb. 28 at awards.innovationcoast.com.


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