PHILADELPHIA—Optometrist and Philadelphia native, Chelise Firmin’s OD, will re-establish Tioga Diabetic Optical Laboratories to begin manufacturing for underserved communities. The lab will open in September, as a joint venture with social impact investor and urban health care real estate development firm, TPP Capital Holdings, and a collaboration with several optical industry chief executives. As a Black owned for-profit pre-revenue medical device manufacturing company, Tioga Diabetic Optical Laboratories produces protective eyewear and specialized eyeglass lenses for the pre-diabetic and diabetic population.

The laboratory is also a resource for independent eyecare professionals and their patients, state and federal programs, managed care organizations, insurance companies, union organizations, military, and corporate institutions.

Dr. Firmin recently secured $3.5 million in financing to complete two eyewear production laboratories, and is currently raising $3 million in private equity from a cross-section of social impact investors and health care and tech founders to support working capital, inventory and outfitting the facility. 

The company also received a $750,000 Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant from the State of Pennsylvania and a $500,000 Neighborhood Economic Development (NED) grant from City of Philadelphia Department of Commerce, making Tioga Optical Medical Laboratories the first of its kind to receive this type of city and state funding. 

“It just shows the support that the state and city have for entrepreneurship, Black-owned businesses, manufacturing and to see us succeed in serving our target population and create in-demand livable wage jobs,” said Dr. Firmin. 

The five-Story 18,639-square-foot state-of-the art facility to be built in a SBA HubZone and Federal Qualified Opportunity Zone is expected to employ 34 full-time people within three years of operation including issuance of American Board of Opticianry Certification for formerly incarcerated women from state correctional institutions. Of the 34 full-time jobs, 22 will be earmarked for residents, persons with low and moderate income and women who were formerly incarcerated.

The optical lab will function as a fully automated manufacturing facility and outpatient center for pediatric and adult diabetics. It will have an optical dispensary aimed at improving access to comprehensive diabetic care and increasing awareness of the diabetes-related epidemic among underserved communities in North Philadelphia, Greater Philadelphia, the state of Pennsylvania, and as far as the Eastern Seaboard.

The CEO’s of Satisloh North America, DAC Technologies, Norwood Device & Diagnostics and Eye Designs have also provided each of their companies’ extensive industry expertise and resources to assist in hastening the development of the facility and the opening date. Satisloh North America has also agreed to provide, at no charge, academy training for their new employees to include certifications on the specific equipment trained on at the Satisloh academy.

"We are excited to partner with Satisloh North America, DAC Technologies, Norwood Device & Diagnostics, and Eye Designs CEO’s to establish Tioga Diabetic Optical Laboratories," said Firmin. "With their expertise and ongoing advisory, we are confident that we will provide high-quality customer-focused eyecare at scale in the region.”

The 12 to 18 month construction project will break ground in September and simultaneously start full operations as a virtual optical lab for OSHA approved protective eyewear, pediatric and diabetic eyeglasses, lens prescriptions, frames, coatings and associated parts.

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