Dentist entrepreneur’s new floss biz launches from school incubator
As with most entrepreneurial concepts, Dan Harvey Lee’s new product idea took root when he discovered an unfilled need in the marketplace.
Lee, a pediatric dentist in Irvine, in 2012 treated a 13-year-old girl whose braces had been recently removed. “She basically had cavities between all her teeth. We had to put her under general anesthesia to restore them,” he said.
Lee believed the problems encountered by his patient and others with braces might be mitigated with a dental floss that is more effective than those currently being sold. One floss product, for example, is somewhat effective but sells at a high price with a type of floss that breaks easily and only utilizes one end. “I thought, why can’t they make this better?” said Lee. “Why not use a higher quality floss and change the design? It’s just an idea I had.”
Lee recently finished classes in La Sierra University’s Master of Business Administration program for dentists at the Tom and Vi Zapara School of Business. While studying in the program, he developed a design for a new flosser for orthodontia patients which he called TidyFloss™. Around the time he was finalizing product and packaging plans, Lee joined a “Principles of Entrepreneurship” class taught by the business school Dean John Thomas. The class requires the launching of a new business venture. Students can submit business plans for approval to use one of the school’s two startup garages, or incubators outfitted with desks, sofas and other business resources. Lee’s plan was approved as the first entrepreneurial venture to occupy a startup garage at the new, 60,200-square-foot business school building which opened in September.
Lee will move into his startup garage this spring. He will continue to operate his business out of the incubator space for at least a year and in so doing provide an opportunity for students in other classes such as marketing a chance to try out their ideas with a functioning business. “We need examples to work with. What better way than with a product and company developed here at the school?” said Thomas. “This will provide a realistic scenario for the students. This is the value of a small school environment.”
In the middle of 2012, Lee contacted the father of one of his patients who is a plastics engineer, and worked with him to make prototypes of a new, lower cost flosser. The flexible aide allows flossing with one hand and complete flossing of the mouth within a couple of minutes. Some of his friends who have braces agreed to try out Lee’s new product. With the tweaks ironed out, the new flosser is in production with an Inland Empire-based manufacturer, and is currently patent pending. Lee has meetings set up with distributors to add TidyFloss to their line of products. The product’s website is available at www.TidyFloss.com.
Lee said he plans to utilize the incubator space in the coming months for some product holdings. “Shipment will be done through that office from orders that come through the website,” he said.
The market appears wide open for Lee’s new product. “There’s no other major competitor out there based on our design,” he said. His future exit strategies for TidyFloss may include licensing the technology, or selling it outright “so I can work on my next idea.”
Lee, who goes by Dr. Harvey, graduated from the Loma Linda University School of Dentistry in 2003 and also holds a Master of Public Health degree. He currently serves as an assistant professor of pediatric dentistry at Loma Linda University and is also vice president of the board of directors for the Orange County Dental Society. He works with two associates at his Irvine pediatric dentistry practice and plans to open a couple more offices.
Lee decided to pursue an MBA because he “needed to learn how to look at the numbers in a more meaningful way,” he said. “The program has given me a different way to look at things from a business perspective. Just being able to understand what EBITA means has been beneficial.”