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product development

Monika Olszewska

After listening for two decades to patients moaning about having their teeth cleaned, Jonathan Shainhouse started a company designed to make the process more enjoyable.

He leveraged his experience in cosmetic dentistry to make products centred around the concept of enhancing the smile. The core brand, Love That White Smile, is a foam-based whitening system that is used like toothpaste. Dr. Shainhouse claims his oral health care line is gentler than what was already on the market.

His company has also developed lip gloss, teeth gloss and a whitening pen designed to protect teeth from stains.

"The idea is to bring glamour to a blah oral-care industry," Dr. Shainhouse says.

Moren Lévesque, an entrepreneurial researcher at the Schulich School of Business, says one of the major advantages for a business owner with a professional degree is the financial security it offers. "Research shows one in four entrepreneurs keep their jobs when they start a business."

These entrepreneurs not only have an added way to pay the bills, they maintain a lifeline into their professional network.

But Ben Molfetta, whose company, Core Marketing Strategies, advises small and medium-sized businesses, says professionals need to be prepared to look to others for help with everything from taxation and accounting to web design. Doctors, lawyers and dentists not familiar with selling can have a rude awakening when they find themselves in an environment where they must actively solicit customers.

Mr. Molfetta suggests to his clients that they learn as much as they can about small-business management through books and seminars. "In a sense, professionals need to fast-track their education because they have a lot of years of catching up to do."

People used to running a professional practice typically have great ideas, he explains, but they are often not ready for the cut-throat nature of the open market. He tells all his clients to arm themselves with research and gets them to commit to continuous planning if they want to expand their businesses. Questions around customer buying habits, a product's niche, and the competition need to be mapped out early and revisited regularly.

"This is a journey and you want the mechanisms in place at the beginning," Mr. Molfetta says.

Dr. Shainhouse attributes his success, in part, to his team. "I think it's really important to be focused on a vision and get a team that shares your enthusiasm."

He says he hired design professionals and worked with a laboratory to fine tune the product formulas.

Other whitening methods on the market such as bleaching lights and trays are a temporary fix, he claims. "Toothpaste hasn't changed since the time of Cleopatra. I wanted to create a better mousetrap."

Dr. Shainhouse saw a niche for a foam that consumers could use at home. After only four months on the market his products can be found in big name retailers such as London Drugs, Jean Coutu Pharmacies and Winners.

As professionals go, Dr. Shainhouse says he is fairly unique for having developed a non-medical product line that stems from his work in dentistry. His business has grown so rapidly in the last few months, he says he was forced to give up one of his two practices.

Prof. Lévesque's work focuses on businesses that have a high potential for growth. She says professionals tend to have specific abilities that propel them toward success. Veterinarians, dentists and accountants need good communication skills and the ability to make sound decisions to succeed at their jobs, which are also key skills for entrepreneurs.

"It's all connected," Prof. Lévesque explains.

People with good communication skills who can explain their vision and build trust, she adds, are more likely to make links with possible financiers and find connections to peers and customers. These strong networks help grow a business.

About two years ago Dr. Shainhouse was spending a lot of his time at trade shows pitching the smile enhancers to retailers. "A lot of people didn't think the world needed another tooth whitener," he says. "We had to prove we were different."

And a year ago his team was hammering out complex packaging design requirements and ensuring their formulas complied with Health Canada regulations. "There are so many little checks," Dr. Shainhouse says. "If it's not perfect when it goes on the shelf, you're in trouble."

But now that the company is more established he is able to devote about 35 per cent of his time to his North Toronto practice.

Special to The Globe and Mail