Generation Start-up: how a Jordanian dental technology company is redefining aligners

Eon Dental is tapping into a growing market for clear aligners in the Mena region

The global market for clear aligners is expected to reach about $16bn by 2028, according to a report. Photo: Eon Dental

Many people growing up with crooked teeth had only one option to correct them – braces.

These contraptions of wire brackets and rubber bands needed regular adjustments and made brushing and flossing a chore.

The emergence of clear aligners in recent decades has given the world not only an effective alternative but one that is virtually invisible, easy to remove and simple to maintain.

Now, a Jordan-based company is using its technology to focus on this growing market for aligners in the Mena region.

Eon Dental, founded in 2011, manufactures what it says are top-of-the-line clear aligners that the company combines with clinician-centric software to offer quick and cheaper solutions.

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The segment is growing exponentially and we will definitely need more capital as we aspire towards doing bigger things
Qais Sabri, co-founder and CEO of Eon Dental

“We have been mission-driven to provide quality orthodontic solutions to our customers so that everyone has access to a beautiful smile,” says Qais Sabri, co-founder and chief executive of Eon Dental.

The global market for clear aligners is expected to reach about $16 billion by 2028, expanding at a compounded annual rate of 27.3 per cent, according to a July 2021 report by data and analytics company Research and Markets.

Demand for customised clear aligners has grown, especially among teenagers, many of whom prefer to avoid the discomfort caused by braces and want their aligners to look aesthetically appealing, the report says.

Qais Sabri, co-founder and chief executive of Eon. Photo: Eon Dental

However, clear aligners currently account for only a fraction of the overall orthodontic treatment market due to several reasons, including higher costs, and not all kinds of orthodontic problems can be successfully treated with clear aligners.

Meanwhile, traditional braces have evolved in terms of aesthetics and comfort. Porcelain braces and lingual orthodontics, or braces glued to the back of the teeth, are also less visible.

Although several companies manufacture clear aligners – including Align Technology in the US that makes Invisalign, one of the leading brands – Eon is hoping to snag a bigger market share of this growing industry.

The industry is changing and the competitive landscape is being redefined as we speak, says Mr Sabri. He expects Eon to become a global contender in the clear aligner space in the coming years.

The company is building its manufacturing capabilities through investments in supply chain and automation, Mr Sabri says. “This is imperative in order to mass manufacture a high-quality customised product.”

Eon produces more than 100,000 products a month from its plant in Jordan. It is also working on further optimising its clinical capabilities and processes to continuously improve on clinical outcomes for patients, Mr Sabri says.

Now a veteran with more than two decades in the medical technology sector, Mr Sabri started his career at Wells Fargo's wholesale banking division as a relationship manager. Before Eon, he founded QS Medical, a medical device sales and consultancy company after returning to Jordan from the US.

“We were just excited entrepreneurs looking to find the next opportunity and build something exciting,” he says about setting up Eon with Yousef Nassar and Firas Shahrour. “Someone drew my attention to clear aligners.”

When he first looked at the segment, it had a market penetration of only 4 per cent.

“There was a need for orthodontics who did not have access to it because of costs or experience. We gave it a try even though none of us came from a dental background. And that, perhaps, became a blessing in disguise because sometimes you realise that being a little bit naive can help you underestimate risks and allow for you to push higher and take on bigger challenges," he says.

“We started to learn how this industry worked – seeking knowledge from different parts of the world to understand orthodontics, clear aligners, the competitive landscape. It took us a couple of years after that as this business involves custom manufacturing, and then you have digital workflows and other technicalities to work out.”

As is the case with traditional braces, aligners gradually alter the position of your teeth. Each set of aligners is worn for two weeks before progressing to the next stage. One needs to wear the aligner regularly – between 20 and 22 hours a day – and follow recommended daily oral hygiene practices, Eon says.

After an orthodontist has examined a patient's crooked teeth and made a treatment request, the Eon Aligner team creates a customised treatment plan. Eon says its aligners are made from a medical-grade polyurethane material that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the US.

Clear aligners require less interaction between doctor and patient, making them a more appealing option, Mr Sabri says.

Eon raised $26 million in series B financing in November last year from a group of investors that included a large international medical technology fund, the Arab Palestinian Investment Company, otf Jasoor Ventures, Endeavor Catalyst, Spartech Ventures and Bank al Etihad. They were joined by existing investors Hummingbird Ventures and Silicon Badia in the financing, Eon says.

The funding will be used to further advance its manufacturing automation and clinical services capabilities, to step up investment in its enterprise and clinical software solutions and to strengthen its commercialisation and distribution.

“The segment is growing exponentially and we will definitely need more capital as we aspire towards doing bigger things,” Mr Sabri says. “Going forward, funding of around $50m to $100m is on the horizon.”

Q&A with Qais Sabri, co-founder and chief executive of Eon

1. Where do you see the company five years from now?

We see Eon becoming a global contender in the clear aligner space, competing against mature market incumbents.

2. What other successful start-up do you wish you had started?

Entrepreneurs have a natural tendency to experience "fear of missing out" related to missed opportunities, whether it is a company they did not start, a strategic decision they did not make or a partnership they did not pursue. It is important, however, to focus efforts on growing the business and not let these missed opportunities distract you from that focus. If one does that, the right opportunities will undoubtedly materialise.

3. If you could do it all over again, what would you change?

Despite there being a growing appreciation for the importance of culture in an organisation, I think many entrepreneurs still see it as something that is worked on at a later stage, once the organisation is a bit more established. If I could do it differently, I would focus on bringing together the right team and harbouring them in the right culture from day one, because it informs everything else. Culture represents the mindsets and assumptions that drive how people in the organisation think, behave and make decisions. It needs to be a priority from the outset.

4. What is your next big step for Eon Dental?

We are going to continue doing what we are doing: advancing our manufacturing capabilities through investments in our supply chain and automation; further optimising our clinical capabilities and processes to continuously improve on clinical outcomes for patients; investing and innovating in our enterprise and clinical software solutions; and continuing to grow in our existing markets by strengthening our commercialisation and distribution.

5. Biggest lessons learnt while launching Eon Dental?

To really create value for your stakeholders, you need to develop a deep understanding of the problem or inefficiency you are trying to solve. This requires putting the customer at the centre of the design process, and basing decisions on their feedback and on data instead of preconceived notions or assumptions of what might be causing the problem. This is an iterative process that we are continuously undergoing to improve our product offering.

Secondly, company culture should be as intentionally designed as a company’s product. It is the backbone of everything an organisation does, and it has staying power – once properly established, it is difficult to change.

And finally, be honest with yourself. Entrepreneurs need to be dreamers and optimists but when it comes to day-to-day operations, it is important to be honest with yourself and your team about what is working and what is not.

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Eon Dental

Date started: 2011

Founders: Qais Sabri, Yousef Nassar and Firas Shahrour

Based: Jordan

Sector: dental technology

Size: 300 employees

Stage: series B

Investment: $26 million

Investors: An international MedTech fund (undisclosed), Hummingbird Ventures, Silicon Badia, the Arab Palestinian Investment Company, otf Jasoor Ventures, Endeavor Catalyst, Spartech Ventures, Bank al Etihad

Updated: January 2nd 2022, 10:39 AM