preventing vision loss using artificial intelligence: a Q&A with TJ Falhoun of Ai-Ris

preventing vision loss

An innovator’s journey from idea to market can be challenging and complicated—but also rewarding. Each month we explore how inventor-entrepreneurs in our network have evolved since they started their journey. Our goal is to share key learnings and best practices with early-stage science and technology inventors embarking on a path of innovation and entrepreneurship. Our latest spotlight is with TJ Falhoun, co-founder of E-Team, Ai-Ris. Irreversible vision loss caused by diabetes affects millions of Americans, and rates are even higher in rural areas and underserved communities where access to medical care is limited. To help prevent vision loss from diabetes in underresourced communities, Ai-Ris has developed a portable, low-cost system powered by artificial intelligence that can diagnose diabetic eye disease outside of clinical settings.

what challenge did you seek to solve with your innovation and why?

Due to socio-economic barriers such as lack of access to medical care and poor diet, chronic diseases like diabetes have a disproportionate effect on underserved populations and developing societies, such as in Nigeria where I spent my childhood. This is what largely fuels my entrepreneurial drive. The problem that my team and I are specifically addressing is preventing vision loss from diabetes through the use of a low-cost retinal imaging system.

what have you learned along your innovation and entrepreneurship journey?

Assume you are wrong and your goal is to be less wrong over time. This is a powerful mental model; it keeps you humble, open-minded, and persistent because you know your job is never done. This is the single most valuable lesson I have learned in my entrepreneurial journey so far.

tell us how you’ve integrated environmentally-responsible practices into your innovation or process.

Even in the earliest stages of our venture, we’ve deeply considered how to prioritize environmental responsibility as we develop our product. We are currently building such practices into our engineering operations by reusing components and sourcing materials from vendors that prioritize sustainability.

how has support from VentureWell impacted your innovation and venture?

VentureWell has been pivotal to the success of Ai-Ris so far. Not only did the funding allow us to develop our hardware prototype but the connection to talented entrepreneurs around the country, knowledgeable mentors, and passionate staff allowed us to consider every aspect of our venture and develop strategies to get our product out in the market. The program allowed us to go past prototyping and ideation to finding our first customers and refining our go-to-market strategy.

what’s next for you?

When I initially started on this path, I had a strong feeling that entrepreneurship, rooted in a meaningful cause, is what I wanted to do with my career. Now I have complete certainty. The journey into the world of entrepreneurship has only begun for me.


The E-Team Grant program supports dedicated science- and engineering-based student teams from across the nation in bringing their high-impact innovation out of the lab and into the market.

What does it take to get from idea to impact? Our new case study offers a deep dive into one innovator’s entrepreneurship journey, highlighting the nuanced experience, lessons learned, and major development milestones.

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