Ted Rogers School Business Technology Management alumnus Kartik Balasundaram is all smiles after his appearance on hit CBC show Dragons’ Den, securing a deal for an app that provides free dental checkups.
With the SnapSmile (external link, opens in new window) app, which Balasundaram (BComm, 2019) co-founded with his friends, users upload images of their teeth with their smartphone, and a dentist-trained AI model assesses the images, labels dental issues and provides personalized recommendations.
Balasundaram and one of the co-founders presented their idea to the Dragons -- a panel of business investors -- on the December 10, 2021 episode (external link, opens in new window) of the show. The pair left the Den with a deal with tech entrepreneur Michelle Romanow worth $75,000 for 20% of their company.
Here is what Balasundaram had to say about how the business came about, how his learnings at the Ted Rogers School helped him develop his startup and his plans for the future:
Tell us about your company and how the idea for it came about?
I grew up without dental insurance, and over the last two years, a chip in my tooth progressed to me needing a root canal. It cost me $2,400 out of my own pocket. I went in for a check-up when the pain was unbearable, and the dentist told me that this issue could definitely have been prevented had I come in for my dental visits. Unfortunately, the $300 to $500 per dental visit was something I couldn't afford, and I didn't go in for my dental check-ups.
After venting to my friends (now co-founders), we realized that there has to be a better, cheaper and faster way to connect patients like myself to a dentist outside of a dental clinic.
Navine Manivannan was my childhood friend since elementary school, and as a software engineer, he helped me work on a startup throughout my time at Ryerson while he was at Waterloo. Myooran Nadesan is a CPA, CA, and has experience working directly with multiple companies in the dental industry.
In August 2020, we got together and built an app that allows users to get an instant, free and personalized oral care report from their smartphones. Users upload a few images of their teeth, and our AI model scans these images. In the first few months of launch, we had over 5,000 users.
What was your experience like pitching your business on Dragons’ Den?
Walking into the Den was the most nerve-wracking experience I've ever been through, but we went in prepared after days of practicing and strategizing for the best outcome on the show.
Our business was pre-revenue, only had a couple of thousands of users and all we had to show was our product.
We got our demo started, and the Dragons had a lot of questions. We were initially told to expect the Q&A session to last anywhere from 15-45 minutes, but after we got out is when we realized we were in there for over an hour. After answering about 25 questions from the Dragons, we kept our ears open to hear their thoughts and listen to their feedback.
How did it feel to secure a deal on the show?
We're proud of what we were able to accomplish in less than a year. We went in with merely an idea and some early traction, and the Dragons were able to see the vision and the commitment of our founding team.
How did your learnings at the Ted Rogers School help you get to this point?
I would say that the time professors spent with me after class provided me with the most useful feedback, but my conversations would be about the businesses I ran at the time.
In 2018, I came across some posters about the Slaight New Venture Competition (external link) at the Ted Rogers School. At the time I was working on Scuto, a two-sided mobile app which serves event creators and vendors, with Manivannan and Vilirsa Rajadurai. It was a $25,000 grand prize, and I never expected to win it. With the help of the entrepreneurship professors and professors in the IT faculty, my team and I were able to win the competition, and that's when I decided to quit my internship at RBC to pursue my start-up full-time.
Once we won the prize, the Ted Rogers School and DMZ partnered to create the Startup Certified program. With the help of the individuals that ran this program, I was able to gain invaluable knowledge about building a company, which provided me with the foundational skill set I needed to get to this point.
What are your plans for the future?
I plan to continue focusing my time on improving how people take care of their smiles with my co-founders. At this stage, we're really focused on learning as much as possible from our initial users and that our product is actually delivering value. We're really passionate about this space, and I'm excited and fortunate to be able to pursue a venture that has real potential to positively impact communities across the world.