This post comes courtesy of Accelerate Okanagan. Read on to find out more about AO Venture Acceleration Program client and local entrepreneur Steve Cowburn of Perfit Dental Solutions
Imagine having dentures made for you in the amount of time it takes for you to watch a movie. Perfit Dental Solutions, a Kelowna based non-traditional tech company, is home to the world's first digital temporary denture. Before Perfit's innovative technology, dentures would often take days to make, and the moulds would often be imperfect because of the less than comfortable crafting process. By taking a 3D scan of a patient's mouth, designing a restoration, then milling the end product, they have revolutionized the dental industry by eliminating all need for manual labour.
Here's what Steve Cowburn, co-founder and CEO of Perfit had to say about becoming an entrepreneur, the the value of being involved in the tech community, and what advice he would give to aspiring entrepreneurs.Imagine having dentures made for you in the amount of time it takes for you to watch a movie. Perfit Dental Solutions, a Kelowna based non-traditional tech company, is home to the world's first digital temporary denture. Before Perfit's innovative technology, dentures would often take days to make, and the moulds would often be imperfect because of the less than comfortable crafting process. By taking a 3D scan of a patient's mouth, designing a restoration, then milling the end product, they have revolutionized the dental industry by eliminating all need for manual labour.
What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
From day one, my brother and I have always liked to push the limits. It started at a young age when my father got us into climbing. Climbing really showed us just how hard we could push ourselves and what crazy things we could accomplish when we wanted something bad enough. With that being said, we got to a point where we realized we had to tone it down. We focused that passion and energy towards something a little more safe, but equally as challenging. At the end of the day, we want to do something meaningful that has an impact on people's lives. Helping people smile is our calling and is so rewarding.
How did the idea for your business come about?
My brother and I owned 3 high volume denture clinics in Calgary and learned the business from the inside out. Our goal was always to implement new technology as it became available, but it never came. After waiting for technology, and experiencing challenges managing a staff of 16, we knew we had to reduce human error and inaccuracies in the current process before we could expand any more. When we saw the Alberta market showing signs of slowing down, we sold our businesses in May of 2015 and focused on developing technology full time. It took us just over a year of development to have our first fully digital solution.
What problem do you solve for your customer?
It’s no secret that most people don’t like going to the dentist. This generation is all about immediate gratification and many restorations take 4-5 weeks to make. The end product is often mediocre and remakes are expensive. This is our value add. What once took several weeks and several appointments, we can now do in a couple hours or a couple days. We also make stronger, lighter and more comfortable dental solutions. It all comes down to less time at the dental office - reducing length of appointments, total number of appointments and time spent repairing restorations. This is the win-win for all involved.
Why did you choose to join Accelerate Okanagan?
I don’t think you can ever have enough mentors. We cross paths with many people over our lives and we truly believe that you can learn something, from everyone. AO has such a broad range of subject matter experts who can help in ways you never imagined. We also really respect those who are humble, and you see a lot of successful, yet humble people at AO. It’s such an incredible organization and we’re lucky to have had people like Jeff and Peter who set the foundation for start up companies like ourselves to call the Okanagan home.
As an entrepreneur, what keeps you up at night?
One of the best Ted talks I've seen is by Kelly McGonial - "How to Make Stress Your Friend". If you're passionate about what you do and make stress your friend, the rest is easy and you can sleep at night. Again, linking business to climbing, there we're times where I was scared to death, but just focused on the next step and nothing more. Cashflow is always the biggest stress for any start-up, so we just try to break it down into smaller goals and track our progress.
What's the value of being involved in the tech community?
Technology is changing everything we do. Tech isn’t something you can ignore anymore. By being in contact with other tech experts, you gain a better understanding of what tech can do for you. In all of our patents, we simply looked at technology that was being used in other industries and thought, how we could apply this technology to dentistry? We never would have thought that the movie industry would have technology we could utilize to make smiles. No matter how smart you are, there is a lot you don't know. Sometimes you just need to ask and listen.
Why did you choose the Okanagan to start your company?
I could give 1,000 reasons, but the Okanagan was a smaller market where we could refine our product with a small group of experts, prior to launching in larger markets. It is also a great place to attract employees and visitors.
How has being an entrepreneur impacted your family, social life, or relationships?
When you decide to be an entrepreneur it impacts everything you do and everyone around you. You need support and stability because you lack that during the work day. For me it's having very supportive mentors, great friends and family. It has had a major impact on my life, especially on my fiancée. She's seen it all from purchasing a clinic during Christmas dinner, working 130 hour work weeks, to working on vacation.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?
1) Never stop learning and 2) have a release. The amount of resources available online is incredible. My bachelor of commerce degree taught me a lot, but I really learned the most by being out there in the real world and by watching Ted Talks / other experts. Many people don't realize, but Harvard posts a lot of their business stuff online. Harvard iLab is an incredible resource where I learned a lot. You also need a release. A release is something you do that it is impossible to think about work while doing. For me, it's less extreme climbing, skiing and photography posted to my website alpineowls.com. Everyone is different, but you need to find a way to turn it off.
What are 3 attributes needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Passion, persistence and attitude.
How would you describe the work culture and environment at Perfit?
You genuinely need to like the people you work with. We're a small family and like a family we share our successes and failures. There are a lot of hard times, but at the end of the day, having full control over your stress is a good thing. When things don't work, we accept failure and try something new as a group. We support each other and if things go wrong, we make it right. Our staff have been incredible during this difficult start-up and we love the team that we have assembled.
What have been some of your challenges and what have you learned from them?
We've faced endless challenges and continue to face new ones every day. What we now recognize is that rejection and failure are two things you need to learn to accept. Everything comes down to those two things. Cashflow is always the biggest challenge and is either a function of sales or investment. Not everyone will invest in you as a customer or an investor. The more you put yourself out there, the more opportunities will come your way. Do what you have to do to get over rejection and move on.
What roles are you looking to add to your growing team?
In the coming months we will be expanding our team quickly. We are hiring a CTO to lead R&D as we have many products which have yet to be fully developed. We will also be hiring support for operations, marketing and sales. On the dental side, we will also be hiring a lot more designers (CAD) and dental technicians.
What's next for your company?
We have 3 products that we are promoting across Canada which are currently offered in BC, Alberta and Ontario. We also have several new products that we are currently developing and 4 patents we look to develop and license globally. We very much look forward to developing these patents as they have the ability to be very disruptive in the dental industry. Imagine having your restoration 3D printed while you wait... imagine making thousands of affordable teeth for people in need. The possibilities are endless and we're so excited for the future where we will push technology and ourselves.
Who do you look to for mentorship/advice and why?
We look towards such a broad range of experts in different fields to provide advice. Going forward, we will be getting into global licensing and other new areas of business that will require a great deal of support. The AO team so far has been incredible and we continue to utilize all their contacts, services and support.
In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur.