Imagine giving your young child mouthwash with the following warning label on the bottle: “If more than used for rinsing is swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Centre right away.” That is the current reality due to the harmful ingredients found in mouthwash products available for children. Any parent would be aghast.
Joon Kim, a father to two young boys who also happens to have a master of science in molecular biology, a biotech MBA and years of experience in the life sciences industry, had a revelation one day at a conference. If bacteria cause cavities, he thought, and you can safely target those bacteria, then you can get rid of plaque and cavities. The answer? We need an anti-cavity mouthwash for children.
A MaRS client, Joon founded Apollonia Health, an oral healthcare biotech company, to develop and commercialize drinkable, safe and effective mouth rinses that can prevent cavities in children without using fluoride or any other chemicals that are harmful if ingested. Joon’s research paid off with the development of an innovative, safe and effective oral rinse that is safe for children.
To get the guidance he needed to run his new business, Joon, with help from MaRS, accessed VentureStart, a program funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario). VentureStart received $7.5 million in funding through FedDev Ontario’s Scientists and Engineers in Business initiative. The program provides emerging entrepreneurs in the science, technology, engineering and math fields with training, mentoring and seed financing to develop their ideas, commercialize their products and grow their companies.
“Scientists and Engineers in Business is designed to help improve the success rate of startup businesses in southern Ontario,” says Gary Goodyear, the minister of state responsible for FedDev Ontario. “Through this Government of Canada initiative, we are doing our part to help develop the next generation of entrepreneurs in southern Ontario by building a workforce of highly skilled, well-trained leaders who will drive business innovation in the future.”
VentureStart, co-ordinated by the RIC Centre in Mississauga, is delivered through 13 provincially funded Regional Innovation Centres in southern Ontario. This includes MaRS, where Joon Kim received his mentoring. Through FedDev Ontario’s support, VentureStart is helping program participants to increase their business and management skills and their capacity to create successful companies and career opportunities.
To get started, Joon completed the online VentureStart training, which gave him a good overview of the structured process of starting a business. Richard Bozzato, a senior MaRS advisor in life sciences and healthcare, is Apollonia Health’s assigned entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR) at MaRS. Richard brings over 20 years of experience as a pharmaceutical industry executive, having led the development of innovative drugs, biologics, medical devices and combination products in several therapeutic areas.
“Richard has real-life experiences in building a life science company, so I am extremely fortunate to have him as my EIR,” says Joon. “Mentorship is a very important aspect of the program for our company. Richard provides us with a wide range of resources in the areas of financing, regulatory affairs, business development and contacts in the industry.”
VentureStart also provided funding to help with the startup’s marketing, legal and operational expenses. Although Apollonia Health is an oral healthcare-focused biotechnology company, it will be competing in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) market space in order to promote its products to parents. VentureStart funding allowed the company to work with CPG industry leaders to focus and plan their branding and marketing strategies.
The funding also allowed Apollonia Health to work with an intellectual property (IP) law firm to plan and implement IP strategies and file patent applications to ensure that its intellectual properties are well protected.
“As a healthcare biotech company, our patents and intellectual properties are very important assets,” says Joon.
The company is expected to launch its first product this fall at the Annual General Meeting of the Canadian Academy of Pediatric Dentistry in Vancouver. With the help of VentureStart funding, the first product is ready for mass manufacturing.
These are exciting times for Joon’s small company. Joon and his partners, Dennis Cvitkovitch and Graham Robertson, have worked tirelessly to get through a long list of must-dos that are essential for a life sciences startup: scientific literature research, freedom-to-operate research, proof-of-concept experiments, validation, regulatory filing, clinical trials and more.
But they now see the light at the end of the tunnel: Apollonia’s product is the only one in the country that Health Canada’s Natural Health Products Directorate has approved as an anti-cavity mouth rinse for children as young as nine months old.
However, what is just as important to Joon Kim is the fact that parents will have a safe and effective product for their children at a time when consumers are looking for more natural health products for their families.
Photo credit: Teeth by Jared Zimmerman CC BY-NC-ND 2.0