Essilor, Hoya and Zeiss have all agreed to join the EuroNet Optics network following Rodenstock's decision to sell its own controlling interest in the German-based B-to-B internet platform to a new American e-business specialist, VisualPlex Corp., which wants to launch a similar service in the USA and elsewhere for companies that operate on a global scale. VisualPlex has also acquired the other assets of Rodenstock's ifa computer subsidiary in Cologne, which has about 100 employees.

Unlike VisionWeb, the sophisticated new American portal still controlled by Essilor and Johnson & Johnson, EuroNet and its new parent company thus become less dependent on specific suppliers. Rodenstock now has a small minority stake of less than 10 percent in VisualPlex, which gains immediate access to the European market. Rodenstock will continue to use EuroNet for the sale of its optical products in Europe, and it will use VisualPlex as its preferred e-commerce platform in other markets.

Another minority shareholder of VisualPlex is Bausch & Lomb. The latter was previously the employer of two key executives of VisualPlex, Robert Colangelo and Joaquin Camacho. Colangelo, the Argentinian-born president and CEO of VisualPlex, served as B&L's senior vice president and chief information officer until last February. Camacho, now a vice president of VisualPlex, was global procurement manager for Ray-Ban before B&L sold the firm to Luxottica.

Rodenstock set up EuroNet two years ago as the first internet-supported information technology and e-commerce platform in the optical industry in Europe. It's operational now in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Holland with an established base of more than 3,000 customers. However, only Rupert Rubrach, a large independent lens laboratory, has joined Rodenstock sofar on the lens side. On the frame side, Rodenstock and its NiGuRa subsidiary were joined only by Silhouette. Potentially, EuroNet has more participants in France where its status is close to that of an association.

Based in Pittsford, NY, VisualPlex was set up only last July. An investment firm in Miami, Interprise Technology Partners, has a majority stake in the venture, having committed along with B&L capital resources of $50 million to get the new platform going. Other shareholders, including other vision care firms, are expected to sign up for additional shares. The company, which has already started to work with some Beta customers in the USA, claims it has developed the only B-to-B platform in the optical industry that can process end-to-end transactions. It uses proven software to facilitate online communication and network access for e-commerce, submission and verification of insurance claims, billing and payments, order tracking and other functions for manufacturers, distributors, optical labs, insurance companies and eyecare professionals.