Startup dental clinic chain delivers quality dental services beyond big metros reaching India’s rural masses with affordable services
9 April 2014. Mumbai, India: Unitus Seed Fund, India’s most active seed-stage impact investor, has led an equity investment in Smile Merchants, a chain of dental clinics focused on providing affordable dental care services outside large metro locations and villages in India. Smile Merchants will use the investment to further develop its unique hub-and-spoke clinic model in the state of Maharashtra and to prepare for rapid expansion in other parts of India thereafter.
|Unitus Seed invests in Smile Merchants||Investing in Private Health Care for All in India
Rural dental market is vastly under-served in India
India ranks 1st in oral cancer with 550,000 deaths occurring every year. The majority of these deaths occur in rural India and could be prevented if diagnosed in time. More than half of the population has never visited a dentist, though more than 80% suffer from dental problems.
Urban India has a per capita dentist ratio of 1:5,000 while rural India is at 1:250,000, a 50x difference. This massive and neglected rural-urban gap creates a huge opportunity.
Innovative hub-and-spoke dental clinic model
In order to deliver quality treatments at affordable prices and in convenient locations, Smile Merchants has pioneered an innovative 3-tier hub-and-spoke model. They operate with hub clinics in tier-2 and 3 cities, mini-hubs in smaller towns, and spoke clinics in villages. Low-cost “spoke” clinics in villages serve more than 90% of dental patients with treatments like root canals, tooth extractions and replacements. This in turn is supported by “hub” clinics that are fully functional centers to provide treatments ranging from implants to surgeries.
“Through our experimentation, we found that we could best deliver a quality solution at an affordable price by organizing our dental clinics around a tiered model which leverages staffing efficiencies while delivering customer convenience,” said Dr. Rushi Trivedi, CEO of Smile Merchants. “We’ve been optimizing our clinic setup time and costs with each new clinic and will soon be implementing additional technology to improve operational efficiencies and further enhance customer engagement.”
Founded by a team of dentists with big ambitions
Smile Merchants was co-founded by Dr. Rushi Trivedi, Dr. Alpesh Chaudhari, and Dr. C.M. Pandey who have been working together for six years experimenting with and refining innovative dental delivery models. Vikas Verma, former senior executive with Barista, TV 18 and Birdy’s is a board member and active advisor, providing support on systems, strategy and growth.
To date, they have served 1,000’s of rural patients and have saved patients significant more money due to the accessibility of their clinics reducing the amount of cost and lost wages in traveling to cities for treatments. Their ambition is serve lakhs (100,000’s) of rural patients over the next few years as they expand their clinic network.
“We see a huge opportunity to bring affordable, quality dental services to rural India and the potential this has for improving healthcare and saving lives for millions of people in India,” said Dave Richards, Managing Partner, Unitus Seed Fund. “We are excited about the Smile Merchants team’s ability to pursue this opportunity – they are creative, scrappy, and focused on continuously improving their operating model.”
Unitus Capital was the financial advisor and Impact Law Ventures was the legal advisor on this transaction, advising Unitus Seed Fund.
About Smile Merchants
Smile Merchants, a brand of Free3 Healthcare Pvt. Ltd., is a chain of dental clinics targeting tier-2 and 3 cities, towns and villages in India. With a vision to transform rural oral healthcare in India, Smile Merchants was founded in May 2012 and as of April 2014 has scaled to four clinics in and around Bhiwandi, a city near Mumbai.