With world-renowned research capability, Australia is well-placed to be a breeding ground for productive deep tech startups.
But long-running commercialisation struggles and a shortage of skills in highly specific job categories has often held Australia back among startups building businesses based on years of research and development, and deep technical expertise.
This is changing. A number of fast-growing, globally successful startups are proving that it’s possible to build and scale these deep tech businesses from Australia.
Sydney-based Eyes of AI is one of them. Founded by brothers Khoa Le, a data and AI engineer, and Dr Sen Le, a dental clinician and practice owner, the startup has developed an artificial intelligence system for dental radiograph analysis with an aim of reducing misdiagnoses, enhancing patient outcomes and freeing up time for clinicians.
Established just three years ago, the company is growing rapidly around the world, and now has a team of 40 people. Eyes of AI has also collaborated with CSIRO’s Data61 team, helping it to address the skills gap within the sector.
On this episode of the Commercial Disco podcast, InnovationAus Editorial Director James Riley chats with Khoa Le about the struggles of launching a deep tech startup from Australia, where to find data and AI talent, and the surprising benefits of a strict regulatory regime.
It all started with a toothache. Khoa Le visited his brother about the toothache and was told that it would need to be removed. Dubious of this diagnosis, he left, but three days later the pain became far worse.
After discussing this, Le found that his brother had been searching for a way to better communicate these dental diagnoses with his patients. The pair combined their individual
expertise, and Eyes of AI was born.
“My brother is a dentist and he’s always complaining about having to analyse x-rays,” Mr Le told the Commercial Disco podcast.
“It was a need that my brother had, and it actually just happened, and here we are three years later.”
In its early days, the company accessed the NSW government’s MVP Ventures grant and then was accepted into CSIRO’s Kickstart program.
“What they did was they provided funding, support, and access to CSIRO’s Data61 team, and their talent pool is amazing,” he said.
“Their AI engineers are pretty much at the top in Australia. With them on board we were able to grow significantly and develop our business.”
Eyes of AI now has six people from Data61 working with their own internal team of data engineers. It’s team is based across 15 countries.
“We’ve collaborated with CSIRO on this project and they’ve been amazing in giving us the AI engineers required to achieve the milestones that we’ve managed to achieve,” Mr Le said.
Eyes of AI’s ground-breaking machine learning models work to identify normal anatomy and pathological lesions in dental radiographs. Its AI model can flag a range of dental and jaw diseases and landmarks.
“We’re developing a closed loop AI algorithm protocol where, as you upload the images, we verify whether or not that’s accurate, and if that’s the case it gets fed into the AI and then any improvements in the accuracy metrics means that the model gets updated,” he said.
“So, our AI continuously learns as we feed it more data.”
He said recruiting has been the biggest challenge in growing the deep tech startup from Australia.
“We’ve done so many interviews, we’ve had to talk to so many people – there’s a lot of knowledge out there but in areas like machine learning, data science and medical imaging, Australia is still growing. So we’ve had to look overseas for the specific expertise,” Mr Le said.
The company has now raised $2.3 million in recent years, entirely from clinicians who have been involved with the early prototyping of the product.
And while navigating Australia’s notoriously tricky medical red tape may have been difficult, it’s been a benefit for the company in the long-term, Mr Le said.
“Australia’s strict healthcare regulations may be complex to navigate, but once they’re clear, they do serve as a real seal of approval – we do get viewed as more reliable and it does enhance our credibility amongst stakeholders,” he said.
“Australia is seen as that kind of gold standard.”
This episode of The Commercial Disco was produced in partnership with CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency and innovation catalyst.
Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.