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Scholar Spotlight: Howard Bornstein’s Vision Care Startup is Setting a New Standard for Corporate Wellness

ARTICLE BY: Corrie Goldman

Siebel Scholars Foundation

July 27th 2016

When was the last time you crossed eye exam off of your “To Do” list? If an exam hasn’t been on your list recently, it might be time to add it. Eye exams not only ensure that you’re seeing well, they also reveal underlying diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, autoimmune disorders, and tumors.

Not sure how to find a good optometrist? Don’t have the time to go to an appointment? Can’t tolerate hours of blurry vision after getting your eyes dilated?

Siebel Scholar Howard Bornstein’s new company 2020 On-site Optometry eliminates just about every reason why you may be putting that exam off.

With 2020 On-site Optometry, a 34-foot truck brings a top quality mobile vision clinic right to your office. The truck rolls into a company parking lot loaded with state-of-the-art-equipment, a certified optometrist and an impressive selection of eyewear. For patients who want to avoid getting their eyes dilated, there’s an HD retinal camera that lets the optometrist do a thorough examination without the negative after-effects.

Launched in 2014 by Bornstein (Stanford GSB ’09), 2020 On-site Optometry works with companies and schools to deliver vision care on-site. They are currently operating in Boston and Atlanta, and will expand into Chicago in the fall of 2016.

The process not only saves time, it also saves money. There are no extra charges for contact lens fittings or for the HD retinal imagery. Most services are covered by health insurance.

2020 On-site Optometry has already helped over 230 companies achieve record high employee engagement with wellness programs. By giving people convenient and cost effective access to high-end vision care, Bornstein says the company is setting a new standard for corporate wellness in America.

Not surprising given Bornstein’s previous work in the philanthropic sector, 2020 On-site Optometry also has a social mission to ensure that every child has access to the vision care and glasses they need, so they can be successful in the classroom.  Recently, 2020 received an award at the Nexus Global Youth Summit at the United National Headquarters in New York City that will enable 2020 to bring eye exams to children in need internationally as well.

In the U.S., through a partnership with the Boston Public School system, 2020 On-site Optometry has administered over 500 free eye exams and donated nearly 300 pairs of glasses to students. Plans are in the works to establish similar partnerships with additional school districts.

Bornstein received his MPP and MBA from Stanford University, where he was a Siebel Scholar, an Arjay Miller Scholar, and founder and chair of Philanthropedia, a website that uses crowdsourcing to help donors find top performing nonprofit organizations.

Bornstein spoke with the Siebel Scholars program about his work.

Q: What motivated you most when you were first investigating the idea of launching a mobile vision clinic?

After personally having a few poor vision care experiences and then learning a lot about eye care, I had a eureka moment that there was an opportunity to significantly improve the patient experience for everyone.  Then, I learned that there was also a silent epidemic in America of children not getting access to the eye care they needed and not being able to succeed in the classroom as a result.  After my time working to improve education outcomes at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, I knew we had to improve care for adults at corporations, as well as give back to students in need.

Q: And before you launched, what did you see as your biggest challenge?

I think it’s the same challenge, or fear, that every founder has before they launch: will the dogs eat the dog food?  Will people actually want – and use – the product that I think they want (which happens to be the product that I plan to bring to market)?  It was also tough to find an amazing team, raise money, and design our product and all the rest.  But, now, that all seems secondary.

Q: You recently led the merger of Philanthropedia with, the leading provider of data on charities in the U.S. In what ways does your experience with Philanthropedia inform your decisions about 2020 On-site Optometry?

Building Philanthropedia, with the help of amazing people like Deyan Vitanov, Chris Herndon, and Erik Bengtsson, taught me the importance of having a big vision and an amazing team.

Q: How steep was the learning curve when you started negotiating with health insurance companies?

The learning curve was steep, and it hasn’t stopped.  I used to think that as you grow and become more successful your problems become simpler because you’ve already faced them before.  I was wrong.  The problems only get more sophisticated and complex.  Now that we have a joint marketing agreement with Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and have several other conversations in progress, it gets more nuanced in terms of how to balance the interests of every party.  What is clear, however, is that insurance companies understand the value of 2020 and why 2020 is the country’s leader in on-site vision care.

Q: 2020 On-site Optometry is lowering costs while also increasing the quality of eye care. How difficult was it to identify areas where costs could be saved without sacrificing quality?

It was incredibly difficult to convince people that we could lower costs while increasing quality – before we launched, most investors turned 2020 down.  Now, however, we are fulfilling one of our missions of inspiring those in other sectors of healthcare to find ways to achieve the “holy grail”

Q: Do you see opportunity for other fields of healthcare to implement similar cost saving efficiencies? 

Yes, without a doubt.  There are a few on my short list; however, I’m torn between giving away my secrets so that others can have impact now and 2020 being able to act on them.  Elon Musk has truly transformed the way the world look at innovation in energy.  Nobody has really done that for healthcare.  Yet.

Q: Industry “disruption” is a goal for many startups. Would you say that 2020 On-site Optometry is disrupting the eye care industry?

The same way that Tesla Motors has not truly (by Clay Christensen’s definition) disrupted the motor industry, I don’t see 2020 as disrupting the vision care industry.  We are a partner of industry.  We are purely providing a more accessible, higher quality, and cheaper way to accomplish one’s vision care needs.  We still work with all the standard industry partners, accept health insurance, use the best equipment the industry has to offer, and offer a great selection of frames and contact lenses.

Q: Human resource departments typically make decisions about employee healthcare. What’s the most common objection you hear from HR managers when asking them to consider 2020 On-site Optometry?

The biggest objection we hear from HR is “this isn’t a priority right now.”  What most of them don’t realize is that the same competitors who are winning away their top talent, are also the companies who are already using 2020 On-site Optometry.  This is most true in highly competitive industries, like software, technology, and healthcare/biotech.  The second most common objection is “but do you take our insurance?”  The answer is that we work with every major insurance carrier in the states we operate in, so if we’re in your state we can work with those providers pretty seamlessly.

Q: In terms of cost savings, what’s the most compelling information you share with companies when pitching 2020 On-site Optometry?

If even one employee is found to have diabetes as a result of their eye exam, it will save the company short-term productivity costs and significant long-term health care expenses because of the preventative components of a comprehensive eye exam.  However, if you are an executive in HR and are concerned about retention, talent development, or attracting the best people, you understand that it’s crucial to remain competitive. If just one employee is lost to a competitor, HR looks silly for not taking advantage of something that is completely free to them.

Q: You said your work with 2020 On-site Optometry made you aware of a “silent epidemic” of children who need glasses. In your opinion, why has this need gone largely unaddressed?

In most systems, if you don’t have a strong voice you don’t get heard.   Just about nobody knows that more than 1 in 5 students over the age of 12 are myopic (nearsighted – have trouble seeing at distance). If you have resources, all this means is that you wear glasses or contacts.  If you don’t have resources, this means that you’re at risk of being diagnosed as having a learning disability – which is true, but it’s a learning disability that can largely be eliminated.  Nobody really knows about this. 2020 is stepping in to fill that gap.

Q: What are the most exciting plans on 2020 On-site Optometry’s short-term horizon?

We are working with the Boston Public School system to raise awareness for eye health month in August. One of the ways we are doing so is by selling T-shirts online that will be under a “buy one give one model” – every T-shirt purchased will provide the gift of site (a pair of glasses) to one child in Boston.  We are incredibly excited to leverage our corporate success to enable us to help ensure every child, regardless of where they are, can have access to high-quality eye exams and glasses so that they can be successful learners in the classroom.