A group of ambitious dentists turned entrepreneurs aim to serve 1 million rural patients in India over the next 5 years
Before Dr. Rushi Trivedi started Smile Merchants, he had no idea how a business worked. “I barely knew anything. I didn’t even know actual active investment occurred,” he reminisces. “It surprised me that there were people who were ready to open their wallet for a good idea. If I proved to them that I was capable of executing an idea, they would support me.” Smile Merchants provides affordable dental care services to underserved markets in lower tier cities, non-metro areas and other rural locations. Dr. Trivedi and his two cofounders hope to serve over 1 million patients in India over the next 5 years. The question asks itself: How did a group of dentists with minimal business experience get so ambitious?
From Doctor to Entrepreneur
As a graduate of M.G.V Dental College, Dr. Trivedi spent several years involved in the academic world. The exposure that his education offered him combined with his small town upbringing equipped him with the ability to make a keen observation about rural dental services: “Whenever you travel to a dentist in the metro, you will see a posh clinic with high-end instruments and a lavish set up. If you go to the non-metro part of this country, to the small towns and villages of India, people just want to get treated and get relieved of the pain that they are suffering. They don’t care about the latest technology or the setup. As dentists, we understood what they required.” Dr. Trivedi, along with 2 other classmates, used this observation to conceptualize the idea behind Smile Merchants.
Outside of his immediate environment, there were a few important factors that helped Dr. Trivedi bridge the gap between his academic background and the world of entrepreneurship. One of these factors was the presence of a mentor. “I think that if you’re starting a business, you should actively look for a mentor,” he explains. “Mentoring is extremely important. If you’re starting young, or if you’re starting new, and you don’t have anyone that will guide you and take you through the process of starting a business, or explain what entrepreneurship is… you’ll be screwed. You’ll just be screwed. There are many institutions and organizations—IIM Ahmedabad, CIIE—that are actually offering mentoring services to entrepreneurs. You just need to go knock on their doors and ask for a mentor. They are very happy to help you.” When looking for a mentor, did Dr. Trivedi specifically look for another doctor? “Not at all,” he jokes. “My mentor was a business person. It was good that he was not a doctor… doctors don’t understand business. “
A Word to the Wise
When it comes to healthcare entrepreneurship, Dr. Trivedi has a few choice words of advice: “I think that you should be like an empty glass ready to be filled. If you feel that way you will become successful.”