Company plans to expand operations for its innovative model across new geographies to address growing demand for quality healthcare services
27 January 2016. Bangalore, India: Unitus Ventures, India’s leading venture seed fund supporting startups innovating for the masses, announced that it has invested a follow-on round of capital in its portfolio company, Smile Merchants, a chain of low-cost dental clinics operating in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities in India. Smile Merchants has pioneered an innovative hub-and-spoke model to improve the reach and accessibility of dental care to the most under-penetrated markets in India. The new capital will be used to expand operations into more Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities as well as surrounding towns.
There’s a huge demand-supply gap when it comes to dental services outside big metros in India
Per WHO recommendations, the ideal dentist-to-population ratio should be around 1:7,500. In India, even as there is an oversupply of dentists in the big metros with a ratio of 1:5,000 or less, the rest of India is underserved with ratios ranging from 1:30,000 to 1:250,000 in other cities, towns & villages. This means there is plenty of choices and advanced care options in the big metros while much of the rest of India lacks access to even basic dental services. Non-metro residents needing dental care often take the time and cost to travel 100 kilometers or more for reasonable dental care.
Consequently, India ranks 1st in fatal oral conditions like oral cancer with more than 5 lakhs (500,000) deaths per year, most of which occur in the rural area due to lack of early diagnosis. These numbers are not just a result of lack of dental manpower, but skewed geographical distribution of dentists. India has more than 25,000 dentists graduating every year from 290 dental colleges with 80% of choosing to work in the metros since they feel a lack of adequate opportunities elsewhere. This is where Smile Merchants steps in with its chain of dental clinics catering specifically to these underserved areas.
Smile Merchant’s hub-and-spoke model brings affordable dental services closer to your home
Smile Merchants has opened a chain of dental clinics in Tier 2 & 3 cities, providing quality dental care to underserved population. The hub and spoke model involves setting up spokes in Tier 3 cities that are convenient for patients who cannot travel far for a checkup. If there is a need, they are referred to the hub centers in Tier 2 cities. The process involves creating learning and earning opportunities for new dentists in rural India via training, standard operating procedures, hands-on training, and awareness creation among patients. Smile Merchants has treated over 10,000 patients across 6 clinics in the last one year.
“I have undergone dental procedures several times before, and after moving to Bhiwandi from Mumbai, I really needed a dentist I could trust. Heard about Smile Merchants & decided to try – I was so satisfied with the results of my dental work, I won’t go anywhere else” said Mrs. Savitha Iyer, a patient at Smile Merchants Dental Clinic. “The clinic was really professional & clean, staff is caring & technology inside seems out of this world. Will definitely recommend Smile Merchants to my family & friends!” she added.
“This investment proves the trust that our existing investor has in the Smile Merchants model, which promises to revolutionize the way dental care is delivered outside the big metros in India,” said Dr. Rushi Trivedi, CEO of Smile Merchants. “The funds would be used to expand the core team and strengthen the model further, preparing Smile Merchants for even more rapid growth.”
“Smile Merchants has introduced new methods to disrupt cost, reach and quality of rural dental care including introduction of warranties and removal of unnecessary dental equipment,” said Dave Richards, Managing Partner, Unitus Ventures. “We believe that they are well-positioned to drive early diagnosis and dental care for a better India.”
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 is based in Bhiwandi, a city near Mumbai.
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About Unitus Ventures
Unitus Ventures is the leading venture seed fund supporting startups innovating for the masses in India. Unitus invests in healthcare, education, mobile & consumer, retail & e-commerce, financial services and agriculture sectors. Founded in 2012, Unitus Ventures is an affiliate of the Unitus Group, a premier financial services group operating in India and other emerging markets since 2000. Unitus Ventures is based in Bangalore and Seattle.
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