Siblings Jessica and Paul Shin and friend Terri-Ann Brown knew they wanted to launch a startup, they just weren’t sure what it would be.
Jessica, who had run technology integration, marketing and other roles at startups and the federal government, had moved to South Florida from the Washington, D.C., area a couple of years ago. She quickly got involved in the local entrepreneurship community, first enrolling in a Broward program called Startup Quest that grouped teams together to learn about starting companies. One of her teammates in the three-month program was Terri-Ann Brown and they immediately clicked. “We found out we worked really well together and had the same goals, and we were both very gung-ho,” Jessica said.
Later, Jessica convinced her brother to move to South Florida, too. In their spare time, she and Paul helped their aunt and uncle market a dental lab they had recently opened in South Florida. Sales visits weren’t going well. “We would hear the [sales] flier hit the trash can as soon as we left the office,” said Paul, formerly a Bank of America vice president.
That experience spurred their idea: an online platform for ordering dental prosthetics, something they didn’t believe existed yet. After more research, Brown signed on to the idea; she had previously worked in human resources and helped private medical practices transition to paperless offices.
What they learned was how big a market it was — more than 65 million dental prosthetics will be created in 2020 as part of a $10.9 billion industry — and last summer they interviewed more than 100 dentists and 38 dental labs about their challenges. Dentists were mainly choosing their labs by word of mouth, without doing a lot of research about quality.
Their handwritten orders for crowns, caps, dentures and other prosthetics were made on paper — yes, even in 2016. At least 5 percent of orders had to be returned to the labs that made the prosthetics for adjustments or wasteful redos. And to top it all off, labs sometimes had to wait weeks or months to get their payment, Jessica Shin said.
The team went about setting up the company infrastructure for the company they would call Apollonix, based in Hollywood. It used MadDev in Fort Lauderdale to create its “minimum viable platform” for ordering oral prosthetics.
On Apollonix, dentists use a HIPAA-compliant digital prescription feature with drop-down menus and one-touch buttons. They can communicate with labs 24/7 on Apollonix’s live messaging platform, and connect to a network of peer-rated labs. On the other side, dental labs can use Apollonix for marketing, lead generation and cash flow — and they get paid when the prosthetic is finished. No waiting months for the payment, the team said.
Apollonix, named after Saint Apollonia, the patron saint of dentistry, collects 10 percent from each transaction.
The company went live with the first version of its platform at the American Dental Association’s annual meeting in October. Nationwide, it has 45 dentists and 21 labs using the platform so far.
In March, the team won second place in the pitch competition at SUP-X: The Startup Expo, winning $15,000. Last month, the team completed an eight-month accelerator at Babson WIN Lab, an entrepreneurship program for women-led ventures, and plans to showcase at eMerge Americas. The team of three plans to make a chief technology officer its first full-time hire and grow its sales staff.
And now, just a year after the company was founded, it can add another accolade: Apollonix took second place in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge Community Track.
Apollonix joins a wave of health-tech companies forming in the South Florida market to service various niches of the industry, including telehealth, electronic health records software and pharmacy delivery.
Last year’s Challenge winners included a physician marketplace for cash payers and an app-enabled medical transportation service.
The time is right for digital innovation. U.S. dental labs are already feeling the squeeze as more business moves to China and other offshore markets that already hold 40 percent of the prosthetics market, according to a recent Bloomberg report. Apollonix hopes it can help the industry run more efficiently so that the U.S. doesn’t lose its high-quality labs, the team said.
“In the end, the patients are the biggest benefactors, because Apollonix ensures dentists can rate and work with the highest quality labs in the market,” said Brown in their pitch.