We talked to Mohamed Dirani of Plano about Myopia, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Mohamed Dirani: The family is doing well, but with the travel restrictions, we are missing each other as we are based in separate countries
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Plano.
Mohamed Dirani: I am a Ph.D. graduate (2006) from the University of Melbourne, Department of Ophthalmology, where I developed the world’s largest twin study to better understand the aetiology of Myopia (or short-sightedness).
After spending almost 15 years as a researcher, I then developed myself (completed an MBA in Melbourne, Australia) to successfully spin-off a Singapore based company in 2017, Plano Pte Ltd (link), a health tech company to provide real-life and innovative solutions to address the global epidemic of Myopia.
Singapore is now my home, and I look forward to delivering on the strategic objectives of Plano alongside Plano’s very talented local team. In short, I am a research entrepreneur, where I am translating a significant body of scientific knowledge in Myopia into smart solutions to benefit the broader global community.
From a personal perspective, I am the third youngest of 12 children from parents who migrated to Australia from Lebanon in the 1970s. When not working, I am an avid runner and love all aspects of martial arts; where I grew up in taekwondo dojos.
How does Plano innovate?
Mohamed Dirani: Plano is a health technology company that specializes in myopia management through education and awareness, science-based technological interventions, which include the planoApp and planoEyecheck, an online optometry booking platform) and AI.
In less than 3 years since its inception, Plano is considered one of the world leaders in raising awareness and educating the public on Myopia, its risk factors, and management strategies. Some innovative highlights are:
We deliver science-based health talks about the basic structures of the eye, Myopia, and easy-to-practice steps for responsible phone/tablet use. These interactive health talks are catered for primary school students and accommodate the attendance of teachers and parents. (link)
We constantly engage with media focusing on raising the awareness of increased screen time and myopia management (link)
Plano’s education initiatives include joint scientific reports with leading universities such as the National University of Singapore (link)
In July 2020, we formed a strategic alliance with the global ophthalmic leader, Santen (link)
“To align with Santen, who have shown leadership in ophthalmic care for over 130 years, is a humbling one. This alliance will provide the team at Plano with the added confidence, mentorship, and new opportunities to more effectively deliver its pioneering services in Singapore and the region. I am honored to be part of this journey and believe that this alliance will take Plano to even greater heights.” said Plano’s Founding Managing Director Associate Professor Mohamed Dirani.
In Aug 2020, Plano and global entertainment giant YOOZOO GAMES inked a Memorandum of Understanding to address the global burden of #myopia in Singapore, the region, and beyond. Aug 2020, alignment with Global Entertainment giant Yoozoo Games (link)
“It is truly encouraging to see YOOZOO, a world-renowned gaming company, taking notice and action to address the global problem of Myopia in children and teenagers. I strongly believe that this partnership will set an example and create a strong foundation upon which future novel interventions for Myopia will be developed,” said Plano’s Founding Managing Director Associate Professor Mohamed Dirani.
In Nov 2020, I was an invited speaker at the AI for good Global Summit 2020. This is a prestigious International Telecommunication Union (United Nations) led event, where I shared a virtual stage with great minds from academia, the global e-sports industry, AI, and well-known journalists. (link)
Also, in that month, Plano won the World’s Most Innovative HealthTech Startup Challenge powered by Galen Growth. More info below.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Mohamed Dirani: – From 7th April to 1st June 2020, Singapore entered into a nationwide partial lockdown, known as a circuit breaker, to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Singapore.
– Some weeks before that, the team at Plano was already working on split-team arrangements, where different departments would stagger their work-from-home and work-in-office arrangements.
– When the circuit breaker was imposed, all Plano team members had to work from home.
– With almost every country closing their borders from the first half of 2020, major partnerships that were in the pipeline had to be postponed.
– The subsequent months of June to September were challenging as Plano’s executive team carefully considered various business and HR issues. These ranged from the need to reconfigure work areas to maintain safe distancing to the mental readjustment that Plano employees had to make to work in the office (after several months of fully working from home).
– There were extra efforts made to ensure that the corporate culture remained strong.
– The executive team also maintained monthly updates to our risk analysis assessment so as to best identify ways to mitigate and pivot when the situation calls for it.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Mohamed Dirani: Not a difficult choice, but as a team, we were mindful of the many difficulties faced by the wider community that resulted from this pandemic.
As the world was adjusting to the new normal of quarantines, lockdowns, or self-isolations, parents were finding it challenging to engage their children in fun, device-free activities at home.
Thus, Plano partnered with local charities and social service agencies in Singapore that work with children, including the Singapore Children’s Society and Singapore Muslim Women’s Association or PPIS. Beyond that, we had also distributed the books to parents across Singapore.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Mohamed Dirani: As a startup with co-workers based in different countries, we were already utilizing most market-leading software and virtual conferencing tools for regular meetings.
We increased the use of these tools during the circuit breaker period and implemented similar measures for all the Singapore-based team. Thus, we were using these technologies both internationally and domestically.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Mohamed Dirani: Strategic alliance with global ophthalmic leader Santen in Jul 2020
“This funding and strategic alliance with Santen will play an instrumental role in growing Plano’s user engagement, strengthen its big data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, and drive its international expansion plans.” said Plano’s Founding Managing Director Associate Professor Mohamed Dirani.
MOU with Yoozoo signed in August, public awareness campaign and videos to inform local & international audience went live end of November (yoozoo.plano.co/)
Through this partnership, YOOZOO and Plano aim to address and combat the myopia epidemic by sharing both company’s technical and professional expertise with the common vision of improving the quality of life and providing a myopia-safe environment for families worldwide.
Winner of Galen Growth’s World’s Most Innovative HealthTech Startup 2020 Award
Emerging as the winner of Galen Growth’s World’s Most Innovative HealthTech Startup 2020 Award from a field of 64 global HealthTech Startups. After achieving the coveted HealthTech Award, I had the unique opportunity to showcase Plano to all the movers and shakers of the HealthTech ecosystem.
Your final thoughts?
Mohamed Dirani: In these strange times, really work at your strengths and never be afraid to pivot.