Melbourne-based oral hygiene app Pearlii has raised $1.5 million as it embarks on a mission to reach disadvantaged Australians and strengthen its artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.
The funding round, which exclusively came from investment firm BRC Capital, comes almost two years after the company closed a $1.25 million raise from Indigenous Capital Limited and Justin Liberman.
Speaking with Business News Australia, Pearlii founder and CEO Dr Kyle Turner explains how the latest raise has “helped complete” the company’s eco-friendly oral care product line, which launched last month and includes toothbrushes, whitening kits and flosses.
With care for the disadvantaged the core of Turner's mission, 50 per cent of its proceeds go towards the Pearlii Foundation, which the founder established to create a fleet of trucks that can provide free dental care to First Nations communities, the homeless and refugee groups.
“To develop a new oral care line - particularly with sustainability at the forefront of the design - requires quite a bit of capital upfront," he said.
“The R&D phase, buying stock and a marketing budget - that was a big part of [this raise]. By the end of the year, we will pretty much have a complete product range.
“Some of this current round will be continuing to improve the tech as well.”
Founded in 2019, Pearlii offers users three types of services: free dental check-ups using AI, educational content and its oral product range.
To assess a user’s oral health, the app’s custom-built AI scans five images of their teeth and gums in order to generate recommendations. In order for the algorithm to accurately identify issues such as tooth decay and gum disease, it interprets data provided by a team of dentists that have examined thousands of dental images.
While the majority of Pearlii's 20,000 users come from Australia, Turner notes that the app has been downloaded by international customers, including from the US and Russia.
For him, the focus this year will be on increasing the current userbase by fivefold.
“We're going learn a lot and we'll need to adjust our price points, ads and designs. Once we feel like we're ready to scale up, we’ll maybe look abroad,” he added.
Turner – who was previously a lecturer at the University of Melbourne in Indigenous Health & Epidemiology - became inspired to create an app centred around oral hygiene after struggling to access dental services while growing up in rural Australia.
“I don't want any other kid to grow up with bad teeth - it really frustrates me,” the epidemiologist said.
“Growing up poor, my mum was working multiple jobs. When you’re trying to put food on the table, oral health is not a priority.
“35 per cent of the country is relying on the public dental system in Australia. If you’ve got a toothache right now and you need to go see a dentist in the public system, the wait is three years in Melbourne.”
To help reach the disadvantaged, Turner has established the Pearlii Foundation, which was heavily inspired by Who Gives A Crap – a toilet paper startup that has donated more than $10 million to help improve global sanitisation.
“Adopting a profit-sharing model has been pretty easy decision,” he said.
“We'll be building dental trucks and we have a long list of volunteer dentists that are already keen. We're really confident that we’ll be able to deliver on the trucks in 2023.
“I want to be doing this for the next 10 years. Who knows how many trucks we could get going around the world.”
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