Toby Rush | Kansas City, KS | Innovation-Led
- Exclusive creator of Eyeprint ID, transforming a picture of your eye into a key that protects your digital life.
- University research turned marketable product, acquired in September 2016 by Ant Financial, valued at $70 to 100 million; headquarters will remain in Kansas City.
Editor's Update: Kansas City-based EyeVerify was recently sold to Ant Finacial Services Group, a major online and mobile financial services provider, for an undisclosed sum valued at $100+ million. Here's how it all got started and how co-founders Reza Derakhshani and Toby Rush leveraged KC's entrepreneurial resources to move from UMKC research to multimillion-dollar exit.
The plot may culminate with a squeal-worthy multimillion-dollar exit, but the story of EyeVerify began humbly, in a lab at UMKC’s School of Computing and Engineering.
Reza Derakhshani, associate professor, created the eye-vein biometric technology with Rohit Krishna, a UMKC associate professor of Ophthalmology and Arun Ross, an associate professor at Michigan State University.
With introductions by Whiteboard2Boardroom (W2B), a partnership between numerous academic and research institutions in the bi-state region, scientific brain met business brawn. All along the way, Toby and his team were helped by numerous KCSourceLink Resource Partners who helped make connections, find (and even make) initial investments, raise awareness and even house the growing EyeVerify team that today has grown to 40 employees with plans to triple or quadruple in size.
“The Whiteboard to Boardroom program was integral in getting the word out about the technology developed at UMKC. From their effort, I was able to find the technology that is the basis for our company, EyeVerify. They continued to assist with the tech transfer process and engaging with university.”
So what is EyeVerify?
Here's how it works. Users hold their smartphones about 8 inches from their faces and look up and to the left. EyeVerify snaps a picture of the blood vessels in the whites of their eyes, a pattern unique to each individual. EyeVerify then uses that data to create an identification token, bound to each user’s phone.
So, when you want to access sensitive information on your smartphone, you just take a selfie. It’s literally that easy.
And they lived happily ever after.
The EyeVerfiy story sounds a lot like the fulfillment of the American Dream, in three acts.
A chief science officer—that would be Derakhshani—comes to the United States as a student. An expert in machine learning, computational imaging, digital image processing and signal analysis, he stays, becomes a UMKC professor and comes up with the idea of eyeprint verification.
A Kansas native—that would be Rush—realizes he has entrepreneurial superpowers. He follows his aptitude in entrepreneurship into software development and mechanical engineering, and after cutting his teeth as an analyst, co-founds Rush Tracking Systems, a consulting firm that utilized RFID tracking technologies. He successfully sells the company and turns around to find another opportunity when (with a nudge from W2B) he bumps into Derakhshani.
Derakhshani and Rush ride off into an entrepreneurial sunrise. With the help UMKC’s Office of Technology Commercialization, Rush acquired an exclusive license to the patent and related IP. A Pipeline fellow, Rush wielded talent and resources to turn the nascent technology into a viable commercial product whose first customers included Good Technology, Airwatch and NetTeller.
Along the way and like every hero’s journey, he received support. (Think the entrepreneurial counterparts to Hans Solo, the Tin Man and Groot.) Technical assistance came from UMKC’s Small Business and Technology Development Center and local funding from Mid-America Angels, Women's Capital Connection, Nebraska Angels and Think Big Ventures.
In the summer of 2014, that focused eye and hardwork earned EyeVerify worldwide recognition. During the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Week, EyeVerify donned a championship belt from the global Get in the Ring contest, a pair of awards during the Consumer Electronics Show and nabbed an innovation award from the Angel Capital Association. The following summer, EyeVerify received its first global investments: $6 million backing by Sprint, Samsung, Chinese security firm Qihoo 360 Technology and a U.S. banking institution.
Like every good story, EyeVerify found a happy home in a welcoming village of like-minded folk, first the Enterprise Center in Johnson County and then at the Kansas City Startup Village and on the fifth floor of Think Big Coworking.
The story is a success for all of us, as Toby Rush will be the first to tell you, and not just because it ends in a multimillion-dollar exit. It shines the spotlight on Kansas City and the innovations and companies we're able to grow because of the help entrepreneurs can access. From local to global investments, from on-the-ground resources to strategic partnerships, it proves Kansas City has the talent, ideas and the resources to be a formidable player in technology and entrepreneurship.