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Virtudent Founder & CEO Hitesh Tolani was completing his dental training when he came across an investigation on Frontline called “Dollars and Dentists” that highlighted how roughly 49 million Americans had no access to dental care. This is when Hitesh saw the opportunity to use telehealth as a potential way to give more patients access to dental care. After a friend emailed Hitesh asking him to read his recent dental x-rays to provide a second opinion, the idea for Virtudent, the first commercial teledentistry practice in the US was born.
Since Hitesh founded Virtudent in 2014, Virtudent has achieved various milestones including being a finalist at the Mass Challenge Accelerator and raising a seed round of over $2M. Today, Virtudent is partnered with companies like Microsoft, Uber, Wayfair and many others. They’ve also committed to doing good while doing well, taking proceeds from these commercial visits to served Boys and Girls Clubs through their partnership with Northeast Delta Dental.
Hitesh sat down with us to share some of the lessons he’s learned when it comes to healthcare entrepreneurship, the pivot they made to work with HR teams of companies and challenges he’s faced along the way.
Increasing Access To Healthcare
While Virtudent initially started with a consumer-facing model, an advisor helped push Hitesh to find a more sustainable model in order to increase access to healthcare for more people.
Hitesh shared, “That’s when we started to explore what are the options out there to provide care and make this model sustainable. We did our research, we looked through all the American Dental Association data, and what we learned is that working Americans stopped going to the dentist. We realized that these people have dental insurance they’re not using so we went in and decided to serve these people. It is a public health mission to help people who have dental care but aren’t using dental care and through them, we can also serve underserved populations. That was an exciting breakthrough for us.”
Hitesh and his team had observed that because of this generation’s new mentality of working harder and integrating work life balance, a lot of people have stopped going to the dentist due to lack of time. Once Hitesh saw this, he knew that there was an opportunity to bring the world of dentistry and healthcare into the lives of the 21st century workforce.
Working With HR
After gathering the data and testing their hypothesis, Hitesh and his team learned that Human Resources (HR) are the gatekeepers to healthcare and the best way to access all these working Americans who had dental insurance but were too busy to use it.
In order to bring healthcare to the workforce, Virtudent and Hitesh started working closely with the HR departments and have educate them about the importance of oral health.
He shared, “We’ve identified that HR is working to provide the best health and wellness for their employees and the type of access to care they have through insurance. We’ve been going around to companies all around Boston and we go in and provide basic care and preventative visit, cleaning, sealant and fluoride and we have dentists reading these cases and diagnosing these cases through telemedicine.”
As the first teledentistry practice in the country, Hitesh has shared how they have had hundreds of patients come in the minute they arrive in the offices of these companies. He added, “These employees been paying for dental insurance for the last 5 years but they haven’t used it because they’ve been really busy. They come in and get their appointment and if they need additional care, we send them off to the local dentist and that’s a way for dentists to get new patients as well because people have stopped going.”
Hiring Top Talent
While working with HR hasn’t been a big challenge given the strong value proposition that Virtudent brings to the table, since raising $2M, Hitesh has been laser focused on making sure Virtudent continuous to provide the highest quality of care for their patients as they scale. He added, “As we’re doing this and setting the standard, we are focused on making sure that our patients come first. So we’ve been laser focused on high quality outcomes and thinking about what we’re providing as a way for patients to be getting 21st century care.”
However, the one big challenge Hitesh and the Virtudent team have faced has been hiring top talent and growing the team. Hitesh shared, “When you raise $2M, you have the opportunity to hire top talent and grow your team but the big hurdle was finding people who genuinely care about the mission and building a team that is all about our mission and doing good. I think the biggest lesson I learned is that building a team that is harmonious makes the whole difference on the entire product and culture of a startup.”
While finding the right people took some time and effort, Hitesh was able to find leading experts in dental radiography and operations who genuinely care about the end product. He added, “They’ve left top notch jobs and they’re focused on creating something special and something for the patient that is highest quality and makes all the difference for our culture and the patient experience.”
Aside from job postings, Hitesh had to reach out to these personally and tell them about the mission and why they were doing it. This led to team members taking 80% cuts in their salaries to join the Virtudent team because they’re excited about the potential impact of the startup. Some of these big names from the healthcare and tech industry Hitesh was able to convince to hop onboard include John Voith (former director at athenahealth), Ryan Spillane (former sales manager at Hubspot) and Dr. Scott Odell (long-time Penn Dental Radiology professor).
Lessons for Healthcare Entrepreneurs
When asked for what advice he would give to healthcare entrepreneurs starting out, Hitesh reiterated the importance of doing what’s best for the patient and really focusing on that. He shared, “What happens is that our patients are happy which means that HR is happy which means they’ll tell other people in their network which means we can treat more people in the boys and girls club. At the end of the day, it all comes down to your patient and making sure you’re providing the care you should be providing.”
Additionally, a big takeaway from Hitesh’s journey so far has been the importance of finding the right stakeholders and partners as evidenced from the pivot Virtudent had to make from being a consumer focused telehealth platform to focusing on working with HR to be able to serve more patients.
About the Author: David is a senior at Penn studying Cognitive Science and Computer Science, originally from the Philippines. At Penn, he’s heavily involved in the startup scene as an investment partner at Dorm Room Fund. Currently, he’s working on SkillStackers, the easiest way to scale work using a virtual workforce. Previously, he started a nonprofit organization calledYouthHack which has gone on to scale to do programs in over 8 countries in the last 3 years. David enjoys meeting new people and sharing the stories of exceptional entrepreneurs!