Toiling away in their offices late at night, Majid Razmara and his startup co-founder, Maryam Sadeghi, were struck by an epiphany as they worked to assemble hardware devices aimed at identifying lesions on human skin.
The 2015 World Congress of Dermatology had commenced in Vancouver earlier in the day, and the husband-and-wife duo behind MetaOptima Technology Inc. had planned to make the pitch to doctors to give these devices to their patients.
“We thought they all had expensive devices and they probably didn’t need to buy devices from us. But to our surprise we sold out in the first day,” recalled Razmara, MetaOptima’s chief technology officer.
That’s when he and CEO Sadeghi found themselves doing everything they could to build enough devices for the next day.
So, rather than targeting potential patients curious about their own skin lesions, the pair decided MetaOptima should focus on targeting doctors with technology specializing in the analysis and archiving of skin images to better assist with detecting skin cancer.
In addition to his work on MetaOptima’s devices – dermatoscopes that use smartphone cameras to capture skin images – Razmara has been leading the way on the company’s Derm-Engine platform.
The dermatoscopes work with the artificial-intelligence-driven DermEngine software to analyze collected images and data to classify skin lesions.
The more images that are collected and examined, the smarter the software becomes at analyzing the images and the more valuable it becomes to its client base of doctors.
Since 2015, DermEngine has acquired thousands of subscribers in skin clinics and general practitioner offices throughout the globe.
“Now we have one of the biggest databases of skin lesions with diagnoses,” the 36-year-old Razmara said.
“We have a head start on this problem. And the more doctors on our platform, DermEngine gets better and better.”
MetaOptima, which now boasts about 70 employees, had humble beginnings.
Razmara and Sadeghi were both earning their PhDs in computing science at Simon Fraser University earlier in the decade when the future CEO’s studies brought her to the BC Cancer Agency, where she was applying her expertise in medical image analysis.
There she realized the need to help people identify and track lesions on their skin, and then went to work persuading her husband to join her on this venture.
“I really wasn’t sure. A startup business is very risky.... The vast majority of them fail within 12 months,” Razmara said.
“And I didn’t know if this was a good idea for both of us at the same time [to] work on the same startup.”
His specialty as a student in computer science also diverged from his wife’s.
While Sadeghi was an expert in medical image analysis, Razmara was focused on machine translation – using software to help machines better understand and translate text from one language to another.
But the timing seemed right for the enterprising couple: they were young, fresh out of school and had no children.
“[We weren’t] used to a high salary so it was easy for us to switch to a startup world,” Razmara said.
While MetaOptima was initially focused on marketing its technology to consumers, the 2015 World Congress of Dermatology helped the company pivot to medical professionals.
It then went on to land its first major client in Australia, where skin cancer rates are higher, and the company has been building a team there since.
“One of the challenges we had was from Day 1 we were an international business,” Razmara said.
For 2019 the company has begun focusing on the considerable market that exists south of the border, with plans to open a U.S. office in the next few months. MetaOptima’s international expansion seems to fulfil a promise Razmara made “to explore the world” when he left his native Iran to earn his master’s degree in computing science at Concordia University in Montreal.
Now his company is partnering with more local firms after joining Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster last year.
And despite some initial reservations about joining his wife on the path to entrepreneurship, Razmara admitted that it was likely the healthiest decision for his marriage in retrospect.
“I was skeptical about this. But soon after we started we realized that that was the only way we could work,” he said.
“That was the only way we could spend 15 hours, 18 hours a day together.… It was a very positive experience.”
Join us to celebrate standout technology leadership and breakthrough innovation when Business in Vancouver hosts the inaugural BC CTO Awards gala awards luncheon on September 18th, 2019, at the Fairmont Waterfront hotel. For tickets and info, check out biv.com/bc-cto-awards.