"R.A.D.A.R. is a Greek innovation created by Greek scientists in the middle of the biggest economic crisis in our history. For us, this is the biggest bet ever on the idea that small companies create big stories. We live by this moniker." -- Dr. Ioannis Aslanides, R.A.D.A.R. & RadarMission
Dyslexia is a neurobiological disorder that manifests in a difficulty acquiring reading, spelling and writing skills. It presents across patients differently, and can lead to challenges with organizational skills and motor coordination. Dyslexia is one of the most prominent learning disabilities and according to some studies, nearly 7% of people are affected. These combined outcomes, alongside a lack of phonological awareness presents a challenge for sufferers trying to navigate a world that is unsuited to their needs.
Accurate diagnosis is key to helping patients access the right support. But given dyslexia’s varying symptoms across patients, as well as its genetic and environmental basis, historically, diagnosis has not always been straightforward. Alongside a multidisciplinary research team of ophthalmologists, neuroscientists, speech pathologists, informatics and mathematicians, Dr. Ioannis Aslanides and Dr. Ioannis Smyrnakis developed R.A.D.A.R., a method that can assess reading difficulties with a unique software. The technique is a non-invasive and the software’s algorithms can quantify the severity of the disorder and suggest an individualized treatment plan. The R.A.D.A.R. method has been put through over 4,000 experiments at Harvard University and the UK’s Cardiff Metropolitan University. This summer, the R.A.D.A.R. team launched the “Defeat Dyslexia” initiative on the Greek island of Crete in one of the world's most extensive dyslexia testing projects.
Recently, Dr. Ioannis Aslanides has founded RadarMission, an effort to bring the R.A.D.A.R. technology to a global market. I connected with Dr. Aslanides to learn more about the R.A.D.A.R. technology, and what it takes to build a global company outside a major tech hub.
One of the initial catalysts for R.A.D.A.R. was driven by a family incident. How did this lead you to apply your technology to digitalizing dyslexia? What was the key challenge you had to overcome?
My inspiration was my son, who was late diagnosed as a dyslexic at age 13. This late discovery enraged and depressed me as it would any parent. I was upset at first with the local dyslexia infrastructure that failed to diagnose him on time. All dyslexics have a wind of opportunity between 7 and 12 years old in order that the negative impacts are not so damaging. At the time, even though I am an academician doctor myself, I had very limited knowledge about dyslexia.
The problem I needed to solve was that there was plainly visible for me. Back then there was not a widely accepted objective, accurate and user-friendly test to reliably detect dyslexia. This is the crushing problem I set out to fix. From that point onwards I was on a mission to see to it that no other family or other children go through this unpleasant journey.
Can you walk us through the R.A.D.A.R. evaluation? What does the test do, and how does the technology detect dyslexia? What does the software capture?
There is a lot of inside information I can disclose due to the proprietary nature of this technology. I can tell your readers that the technology employs a combination of eye-tracking technology and artificial intelligence which gives origin to very strict mathematical algorithms. It is this unique and integrated combination of hardware, deep learning, and proprietary data analysis that make R.A.D.A.R. such a multipotent tool of reading fluency and dyslexia abnormalities. Subjects of these non-invasive and short session tests are not only screened with nearly 100% effectiveness, but we are also able to prescribe a course to help subjects, tracking their progress along the way.
What are some of the challenges with how dyslexia is tested through other means, and how does your software provide a better alternative?
Dyslexia diagnosis worldwide is usually based on reading aloud. When a subject reads aloud, he/she performs the double task of decoding and then vocalization. Mature readers normally read silently. It is our belief that assessing silent reading is the most scientific way of evaluating reading fluency for an individual. Thus, we are faced with a great deal of opposition in our field from those who consider us “disruptive” technology. Therefore, it has taken us an unusually long time to publish our findings in peer review journals, and so forth.
What we have actually achieved with R.A.D.A.R. is to accurately evaluate at a level of a syllable the reading pathway of each individual. More specifically we can provide at lease 25 reproduced parameters of the reading process. Therefore, we have created for the first time the way to digitize dyslexia and reading proficiency. So, instead of qualifying dyslexia, we quantify the disorder. It is worthwhile to add here that our test has a negative predictive value of 99.3%. This means that each child who has a negative R.A.D.A.R. result absolutely has no dyslexia. This means that this process is a test that should be performed at least once by all individuals.
When it came to fundraising for the product, what strategy did you pursue, and how did you know your investment team was the right fit?
So far, we have been very strong in the science, and we’ve purposely sought to be self-maintained via research grants and through our own personal funding. Just recently we shifted to become a business under the name Radarmission Ltd. We are only now seeking funding from private equity firms.
A key part of your journey thus far has been your collaboration with international research institutions, such as Harvard and Cardiff Universities. When it came to building these partnerships, what advice do you have for other founders looking to find partners to help pilot their products?
R.A.D.A.R. has undergone a series of long scientific due diligence trails at Harvard, in the UK, and here in Greece. We have only recently finished the validation of R.A.D.A.R. in the English language for the U.K., U.S. South Africa, and Australia markets.
As for my advice to other entrepreneurs, I think it is imperative to have confidence in the vision and the product at the end. Innovators too often give up when funding is not there, or when market forces push back against a vision. The old saying “nothing good comes easy,” is something everyone on our team swears by.
R.A.D.A.R.’s HQ is in Crete, the largest of Greece’s islands. Some might think that an island might be a challenging place to build a startup, but you’ve shown that it’s possible to persevere here. What can you tell us about the startup ecosystem in Crete and where have you found support on your entrepreneurial journey?
R.A.D.A.R. is a Greek innovation created by Greek scientists in the middle of the biggest economic crisis in our history. For us, this is the biggest bet ever on the idea that small companies create big stories. We live by this moniker.
What should we expect next from Radar? How and why did you develop RadarMission?
Scientifically, we are continuously advancing R.A.D.A.R. as a modular product. Commercially, we are certain that R.A.D.A.R. should be used as the digital tool to assess reading fluency and dyslexia in Greece and Cyprus state school systems. Using our platform will solve huge problems not only for those affected by reading disorders, but in freeing up the system to achieve more good. For instance, there is currently a pool of more than 45,000 disputed cases of dyslexia in arbitration. This bottleneck not only impedes the Greek system, it also delays the proper course of treatment for the kids who need help the most. To be blunt, the R.A.D.A.R. system cannot be fooled. Our method is verifiable, mathematical, foolproof when compared to subjective assessments. As you can see, the uses of this groundbreaking technology opens up new avenues in dealing with reading and dyslexia in primary school pupils, university freshmen, even in workplace situations.
In addition, we are now focused on testing R.A.D.A.R. with inmates in the penitentiary system. The implications here are enormous, as you can imagine. In the U.S. and the U.K. over 60% of those incarcerated are either dyslexic or functional illiterate. Furthermore, R.A.D.A.R. is capable of meeting or exceeding any parameters instituted by the new First Step Act (S. 3649) just endorsed by President Trump in the effort to reform America’s criminal justice system. The very sensitive social population engaged here, necessitates the application of highly quantifiable methods. R.A.D.A.R. is that method. In addition, RADAR has steadily been proving its usefulness in other neurological disease entities like post stroke aphasia and dysphasia.
Do you have any lessons to share with other founders who are just beginning their journey? Any key takeaways to share with the next generation of European entrepreneurs?
Investors are focused mainly on quick financial return and not ever-lasting scientific accomplishment. Therefore founders must always have a clear vision and a deep understanding of their product and the void of the market they are trying to fill. Innovators will often be surrounded by ambiguous products of “lesser intellectual value” that may be thriving commercially. A first order of business should be to rise above the “noise” of inferior competition, by remaining focused on the core goal of the endeavor.
For instance, the core mission of R.A.D.A.R. is to decrease suffering for young dyslexics and their families. We set out from the start to help make education a happy journey for everybody, one that guarantees an equal opportunity for a better education and a better life to all. This is why we started this journey.