Outreach, Students

Students Offer New Approach to Delivering Dental Care at Entrepreneurial Competition

They faced a challenge that would have tested the nerves of many promising student-entrepreneurs: Present a 41-page business proposal to a group of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, philanthropists and foundation executives. Then add a timer set at seven minutes and the knowledge that seven other teams are also competing for prize money.

Three second-year dental students and a master’s degree candidate in the School of Public Health had that experience on April 21, as members of a team presenting a new approach to delivering oral health care. Aptly named the Carolina Challenge, the entrepreneurial business plan competition began with an 83-team field representing UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, staff and students. Sixteen semi-finalist teams made it to the April 21 competition (divided into two categories, social and commercial).

For their efforts, the team presenting Robinson-Stevens-Condon LLC received honorable mention and $750 in prize money. Team members from the School of Dentistry are Taylor Robinson, Matthew Stevens and Jacob Condon. Robbie Harmon is from the School of Public Health.

RSC LLC’s mission, as articulated in the business plan, is to create a prevention-focused structure – and eliminate third parties from the patient-provider relationship. In this system, patients would pay an annual membership fee of $350, covering two comprehensive oral examinations and remaining treatment needs provided at 60 percent of the regularly charged fees.

“We are offering a new method of dental care delivery, eliminating fiscal intermediaries,” the team states in the plan’s executive summary. “RSC LLC will offer patients annual membership plans with multiple benefits. These plans will cost less than typical dental insurance plans and will offer improved benefits including cosmetic procedures.

“Through elimination of fiscal intermediaries, care providers and patients will no longer deal with pre-approvals and limited treatment options. In addition, the plans will emphasize disease prevention and patient education.”

The Internet will be a prominent part of this new approach, even allowing patients the ability to schedule appointments online. “The most important aspect of our Web site will be patient education,” Robinson said. “We feel that one of the key aspects to providing quality dental care is educating the patient about optimal oral health.”

The idea began in a class discussion on the best ways to provide oral health care; Condon and Robinson began to think about what an optimal approach would include. Robinson received a campus e-mail on the Carolina Challenge that evening and called the eventual team members about entering the competition.

School of Dentistry Dean John N. Williams; Dr. Dan Caplan, associate professor of dental ecology; and Dr. James Beck, professor of dental ecology, are among the team’s board of advisers.

“When Taylor e-mailed me and said that as a result of our class discussion they had come up with an idea for a practice model that combined the positive aspects of fee-for-service and capitation financing plans and wanted to enter the Carolina Challenge, my first thought was that this had been tried before,” said Beck. “But, they came up with a creative idea and put in a lot of research and writing time that resulted in an outstanding 41-page plan.”

The team has the option of re-entering the Carolina Challenge next year – and Robinson, Stevens and Condon say they will do so. “We can take that same plan, improve on it and re-enter next year,” said Stevens. “We didn’t expect to make it as far as we did. Now that we have, the experience is really going to help us.”

They plan to test the marketability of the plan in a dental practice in the coming year, among other ideas.

“We think we could win it all,” Condon said.

The Carolina Challenge is a student-led project of the Carolina Entrepreneurial Initiative, a campsuswide effort supporting UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, staff and students in their efforts to launch sustainable enterprises that create value.