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This Irish teeth-straightening startup is opening in Dublin. Next stop, Australia and Canada

As part of our new weekly Startup Spotlight series, we profile Your Smile Direct.

Image: Maurizio Gambarini/DPA/PA Images

DÚN LAOGHAIRE-BASED teeth-straightening startup Your Smile Direct will open its first clinic in Dublin next week – marking its 10th outlet across Europe.

It’s a testament to how rapidly the company has grown since it started trading in January of last year – despite being relatively unknown at home.

With ambitions of becoming the largest orthodontic business in Europe, the startup provides clear dental aligners for patients to correct minor teeth imperfections from home.

After visiting a clinic or using a home impression kit to take a mould of their teeth, customers are sent a series of see-through cosmetic braces to wear for up to six months to fix problems like overcrowding or gaps.

It promises to be up to be much cheaper than a traditional dental practice, with the full service costing a little over €1,500 in total.

‘Mixed messaging’

Your Smile Director founder Graham Byrne says the idea for the business stemmed from his own experience of trying to get his teeth straightened as an adult.

“I’m one of these people who should have done it at 16 but didn’t have the means or the inclination at the time,” he tells Fora.

Byrne was disappointed with the orthodontic process, which he says was “incredibly expensive and incredibly arduous”.

“There was a lot of confusing pricing online,” he says, “a lot of mixed messaging.”

Graham profile Your Smile Direct founder Graham Byrne Source: Your Smile Direct

He discovered that there were companies in the US that could cut out expensive repeat visits to the orthodontist by working directly with consumers and letting them manage their own treatment from home. Byrne decided to see if such a model could work on this side of the Atlantic.

He spent much of 2015 developing partnerships with labs in the UK that could create the see-through aligners for Your Smile Direct customers. He also started building relationships with dental practices that would prescribe the treatment.

After closing a funding round – the figure for which Byrne won’t disclose but says is “in the seven figures” – the company launched in the UK.

“We started off in January (2016), there was myself and an intern. We took in just under 60 inquiries,” Byrne says.

“By the end of that year in the UK, we were taking in just over 10,000 inquiries. By December we were at 19 by way of headcount. We’re at 35 now.”

When business took off, the company decided to move away from only using home impression kits for initial consultations and opened the first so-called ‘smile factory’ clinic in London’s Picadilly Circus, where a licensed dentist would be at hand take a scan of customers’ teeth.

After opening the London facility, Your Smile Direct rolled out clinics in other parts of the UK, and set up shop in France, Italy and Spain. On 17 May, it will open the doors to its first Irish centre on Dublin’s Harcourt Road.

“This year, we have 35 clinics scheduled to open,” Byrne says. “Dublin is only one (in Ireland). But there will be another next year.”

With plans to open a clinic in Germany soon, Byrne says he is well on his way to achieving his ambition of building a Europe’s biggest orthodontic business.

“We’re now looking beyond that,” he said. “We’ve a launch in Australia and a launch in Canada coming in the next three months.”

Challenges

Growing a such a fast pace has not been without its difficulties. For example, in December of last year, the company had a lot of problems delivering home impression kits to customers.

“We were sending out 1,400 of these a week out at the time and for a small company with no distribution format, that became a problem,” he says. “We used a third party and that third party crippled under the pressure. We’ve since set up our distribution depot in Manchester.”

The company has also ran into difficulty with Align Technology, the US company that manufactures Invisalign-branded see-through braces.

New LivingSocial Image See-through aligners Source: Your Smile Direct

Earlier this year, Align filed a lawsuit against Your Smile Direct for allegedly infringing three of its patents with the sale of the Irish company’s core products.

“Align Technology have a product and they’re trying to protect that and clearly we respect that,” Byrne says. “It’s an ongoing discussion.”

He adds: “It’s certainly not the first action that they’ve taken. There is a company that do exactly what we do in the United States. (Align) took exactly the same case against them a year ago. Nine months after that, they invested in that company.”

When asked what else is in the pipeline for Your Smile Direct, Byrne says the company plans to hire 60 more staff by the end of this year.

It will also launch a retainer subscription service, where customers who have already had their teeth straightened can pay a monthly fee for a new set of aligners ever six months.

“If you don’t wear a retainer in your teeth after treatment, your teeth will go back close to where they were prior to that. Effectively, you’ve made this investment in your teeth. Now you can protect that investment.”

This article is part of a new weekly series featuring Ireland’s most promising startups. If you would like to see your company featured email news@fora.ie.

Written by Conor McMahon and posted on Fora.ie

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