Alachua oral hygiene company wants to get in your toothpaste
A local company makes an ingredient for toothpaste and other dental products that mimics and amplifies the body's own mechanism for restoring teeth and gums.
NovaMin Technology Inc. is talking with 35 companies around the world, including most of the major brands of toothpaste, and it hopes the ingredient will become the next standard in a $30 billion industry.
Randy Scott, president and CEO, said NovaMin is one of a handful of companies marketing calcium phosphate formulas.
"The industry has acknowledged that they're going to be in every tube of toothpaste in the not-too-distant future. Our task is to prove that we're the best one so that we can become the technology standard," he said.
The stakes are huge, Scott said - about a $1 billion slice of the pie.
The calcium sodium phosphosilicate addresses a wide range of dental problems such as reversing early tooth decay, eliminating hot and cold sensitivity, killing more of the bacteria that cause gum disease than regular toothpaste, and strengthening and whitening hard tissue.
Where fluoride builds a shell over a cavity, NovaMin rebuilds the tooth from the bottom up, Scott said.
"For us, the big break would be when one of the household-name companies launches a NovaMin-contained paste because that will create the pressure for everyone to follow suit, the same way that when Diet Coke adopted NutraSweet, within six months every other diet soda had NutraSweet in it," he said.
If they win the sweepstakes, the "Powered by NovaMin" label could be ubiquitous in oral hygiene aisles, dentists' offices and pharmacies.
"Eventually we'd like there to be Colgate with NovaMin, Crest with NovaMin, chewing gum with NovaMin, whatever," Scott said.
Despite the uncertainty, he said competition was the best thing that ever happened to his company.
Their pitch was going nowhere, in part because it sounded too good to be true.
"Then other people, competitors came along. All of the sudden there's three or four people telling the story and that automatically adds credibility. It took on a little bit of life of its own. Within the last year, the question in the industry has become not do these things make sense, it's which one of these is best."
In the meantime, NovaMin is already in Butler NuCare, a dental hygienist tooth polish; a few prescription products for tooth sensitivity; Dr. Collins Restore toothpaste; a toothpaste in China and a whitener in Greece.
The company also sells its own toothpaste, Oravive, on the Web. Scott said the company made more than $2 million in sales last year, will do substantially more this year and will probably make its first profit next year.
The company started with a dozen employees three and a half years ago and has 20 now.
NovaMin will soon move from its current location in Progress Corporate Park in Alachua, where it has people in six different rooms, into a brand new building in the park with 8,000 contiguous square feet of its own.
The company has its roots in a bone regeneration compound invented by Dr. Larry Hench at the University of Florida in the 1970s.
Two dentists at the University of Maryland invented the dental application with research funded by USBiomaterials, a former Alachua County company now in Jacksonville.
Scott grew up in Florida and Georgia. After earning a degree in management science from Georgia Tech, he went to work for Proctor & Gamble in Cincinnati, marketing Folger's Coffee.
From there, he managed a food and beverage startup and was a vice president of marketing for Easy Spirit shoes.
His family wanted to get back to Florida and a contact from the shoe business then at USBiomaterials helped him land the job in Gainesville.
Scott and NovaMin product spun off from USBiomaterials in January 2004.
"It was a complete gamble," he said. "We left with enough money to operate for a few months and it was kind of 'eat what we kill.'"
Scott said NovaMin was fortunate early on to land additional investments and a couple business deals, "and it's been a rollercoaster ride ever since. One week you're not sure you're going to make it and the next week you think you're going to conquer the world."
In June 2006, the publication TechJournal South named NovaMin second in its Biotech 15 "brightest future stars" in biotech in the Southeast.
Scott said the company is now in the transition from the research phase to the commercial phase. "Now we finally seem to be at the tipping point."
"Probably nobody would ever start a business if they knew how long and how hard it would be," he said. "We all suffer from a little over optimism when we do it."