From the June 1998 issue of Startups

Undergoing surgery can be frightening, especially when you're not sure what the results will be. When Bob Watson, a Houston videographer, was scheduled to have radial keratotomy in the early 1980s to correct his nearsightedness, he spoke to his doctor and other patients who had undergone the procedure. They expected he would come out of surgery with 20/20 vision, free of glasses forever.

But after surgery, Watson, 48, had blurred vision and painful reactions to bright light. Most distressing, his vision improved temporarily, but he soon required glasses again.

Watson thought there should be a better way to educate patients about surgical procedures so they could make informed decisions. Consulting with a local ophthalmologist, he made a videotape explaining radial keratotomy and began marketing it to doctors. But the procedure was relatively new and unproven, and not many doctors were performing it, so he got few responses.

Watson didn't give up. He expanded his catalog of videotapes to include more common procedures, such as cataract removal. When he took his wares to a meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, he received a flood of orders for the educational videotapes.

Founded in 1993, Watson's Patient Education Concepts now offers a wide variety of educational materials on eye surgery procedures, including posters, brochures and even interactive CD-ROMs. Advertising by direct mail, attending ophthalmology trade shows and a Web site have helped him attract overseas business and boost sales to more than $1 million in the past several years.

Yours Truly

Receiving letters and bills in the mail is an everyday occasion for most adults, but children don't get much mail . . . unless they subscribe to Letters for Kids. Founder Janine Garner, 40, a former social worker and writer for teen magazines, sends children letters personalized with their names, their hometowns and the names of two special people in the children's lives.

Garner got the idea when she realized her children looked forward to visits from the mailman as much as she did. "So I started writing letters to them," says Garner. Her kids were overjoyed, and a business was born.

Garner recruited an artist friend to design two kid-friendly characters, Dudley and Doodles, and placed an ad in a Long Island, New York, parenting publication to promote the letters, which she writes to accommodate the kids' literacy levels. Founded last December, Letters for Kids now has 60 subscribers, who pay $11.95 for a six-month subscription or $19.95 for a 12-month subscription (children receive one letter per month, plus a personalized birthday card).

Shake It Up

Lisa Klein, 29, was working at an advertising agency when she realized that tourists visiting her town knew San Francisco not as the home of the Golden Gate bridge or a place to get great sourdough bread, but as an active earthquake zone. "When tourists come to the Bay Area, they think about earthquakes," says Klein. "So I decided to make a line of T-shirts to speak to that."

Klein came up with several designs depicting Bay Area fault lines and the epicenters of major quakes. Before beginning full-scale production, she tested the waters by sending promotional catalogs describing the shirts to retailers at tourist spots such as Fisherman's Wharf. The response was positive, and Klein officially opened Quake City Graphics in the summer of 1997. Soon, she was selling more than 400 T-shirts every month, at $15 each, through local retailers and her Web site.

As if this taste of entrepreneurship wasn't enough, Klein has since opened her own advertising agency. She still runs Quake City Graphics and plans to expand her T-shirt line to depict natural disasters in other locales.

Contact Sources

Letters For Kids, P.O. Box 1008, Plainview, NY 11803, ltrs4kids@aol.com

Patient Education Concepts, 14614 Falling Creek, #210, Houston, TX 77068

Quake City Graphics, (415) 922-2581