OwlSpark | Rice University Startup Accelerator | TeamWise: Ai-Ris
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TeamWise: Ai-Ris

Millions of people around the world live with Diabetes, a disease marked by excessive blood sugar levels. Diabetes can wreak havoc on blood vessels in the body, causing complications to vital organs. One such complication is Diabetic Retinopathy—when damage to blood vessels in the eye leads to blurriness, dark areas of vision, difficulty perceiving colors, and eventually, blindness.

To combat Diabetic Retinopathy, TJ Falohun and Harsha Mohan founded Ai-Ris. Ai-Ris is an imaging system that takes a detailed picture of the retina to assess its condition. Their technology consists of hardware and software. The hardware enables them to visualize the retina using special optical illumination instruments. At the same time, the software leverages machine learning to classify the image “diseased” or “non-diseased.” Using the Ai-Ris technology, diabetic patients with early signs of vision loss can quickly detect the disease and take the appropriate preventative measures.

The founders met at Texas A&M University, where TJ is working on his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering. Recent alumnus, Harsha, is pursuing his master’s in Mechanical Engineering and Robotics at Johns Hopkins University.

Before Ai-Ris, Harsha and TJ worked together to establish the Texas A&M chapter of Sling Health, a national organization that works to turn teams of students into real-world med-tech startups. Through Sling Health, they met Daniel Kermany, who had begun working on the technical components of Ai-Ris before coming to Texas A&M University.

“We just came together, and the team grew over time. This product has roots that go back four to five years,” TJ said. Through OwlSpark, they hope to gain structure and guidance to their vast array of ideas.

“As startup founders, it’s really easy to get lost in your thoughts,” Harsha added. “It’s great to be able to spit out your thoughts and have them vetted by a third party.”

One of their biggest challenges is sorting through feedback, and considering the information on which to take action. “We’ve received a lot of strong opinions. It’s easy to think that just because someone’s got a fancy degree or experience in a startup that they’re automatically correct, but I’ve learned that’s false.”

One of their favorite aspects of the program has been the Startup Founders Series. “Many of the speakers and founders are in the med-tech space, so there’s been a lot of levels on which we could connect with them. It’s all very relevant to what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Outside of Ai-Ris, TJ operates a YouTube channel where he releases videos on topics such as mindfulness and improving mental health. He also enjoys graphic design, vector illustration, and listening to audiobooks. Harsha enjoys playing with his dogs and reading books about anthropology and philosophy. He also plays ice hockey and enjoys winter sports.