Dr. Jash Sharma’s Philanthropic Vision Aids Individuals
Around the World While Growing Local Economy
They arrive by camel cart or rickshaw; eyes so riddled with cataracts they’re now opaque. Facing a life of restricted activity they’re dependent on family members to care for them.
Ganga Devi Pandey Eye Hospital in Mahendergarh, India provides free Intraocular lens (IOL) cataract operations for the needy. The hospital is the joint effort of Dr. Jash Sharma and his father. The elder Sharma, blinded from glaucoma and eye infections, spent his life savings to construct the hospital. The son, a Pittsburgh-based doctor and social entrepreneur, utilized the SBA’s guaranteed loan program to build a facility and produce the lenses used to combat blindness.
The treatment plan includes an overnight stay and free meals, made from vegetables grown on the 50-bed hospital campus. Last year, 4,200 patients left the hospital with free lenses, glasses and a new lease on life.
Because of his role as international businessman and humanitarian, Sharma, 71, president of CIMA Life Sciences, Inc. is SBA Pittsburgh District’s Exporter of the Year. Sharma’s rise as a physician, small business owner and philanthropist, from his humble beginnings were why the Duquesne University Small Business Development Center (SBDC) nominated him for the award.
Sharma, who employs 22, said his IOL business enables him to help those in Asia including: India, Mexico, Latin America and Africa. “Since I was a teen, I wanted to dedicate myself to helping those less fortunate, he explained. “I now can do this while providing good jobs in Pittsburgh, my favorite city.”
SBA Pittsburgh District Director Kelly Hunt admires Sharma’s social entrepreneurship efforts. “You don’t even have to be an entrepreneur to embrace this lifestyle,” Hunt added. “We all are called upon to help in difficult times; social entrepreneurs are proactive in constructing a plan that utilizes their business every day to better society.”
Cataracts are a clouding of the eye’s lens resulting in a decrease in vision, which, if untreated leads to blindness. According to Dr. Sharma, much like gray hair, eventually everyone gets cataracts. In India, however, cataracts often strike at an earlier age. He attributes this to poor nutrition coupled with long, laborious days working outside in the strong sun.
To treat cataracts, surgery is used to both break up the existing, cloudy lens and replace it with a new, hard or foldable intraocular lens.
With no direct access to intraocular lenses and high cost, Sharma began making them in India -- becoming the first person to establish an intraocular lens manufacturing company there using U.S. technology. After 15 years, Sharma moved operations to Pittsburgh, to have a more “hands-on” role in the business. “Everyone wants IOL’s made in the U.S.A., and now we export our lenses to more than 30 countries and donate some to eye camps in rural China, India, Mexico, Africa” he explained. “We started our Pittsburgh operation in 2005 and broke ground on our new facility in 2011 where we produce 500 high-precision lenses each day.”
CIMA Life Sciences, completed in 2013, was constructed under Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines and with a SBA 504 Loan. It currently is approved by the International Standard Organization and CE approval – a global health and safety mark – allowing it to both design and manufacture medical products using international audits. However, Sharma soon hopes to apply for FDA approval enabling hospitals and clinics across the country to use CIMA’s foldable hydrophobic lenses and viscoelastic gels.
Sharma also has a vision for Pittsburgh youth and is working with homeless teens at nearby Gateway High School. “They need work and I want to provide training so they one day possibly can pursue careers in machining,” he added. “I want to give back so everyone can live the life I lead.”
The 504 Loan Program is an economic development program that supports American small business growth and helps communities through business expansion and job creation. This SBA program provides long-term, fixed-rate subordinate mortgage financing for acquisition and/or renovation of capital assets. Last year 18 of these SBA “brick and mortar” loans were disbursed pumping more than $19 million into the Western Pennsylvania economy.
Rebecca MacBlane, executive director, Regional Development Funding Corporation, which provided the 504 funding package to CIMA Life Sciences, said that loan and its ultimate use struck a chord with her. “It is personally gratifying to know that I am helping him continue his mission in life,” she said. “All of Pittsburgh should be grateful to have him as an ambassador for vision amongst the world’s neediest peoples.”
Today’s SBA: Smart, Bold, Accessible