Lime Co-Founder Launches Wellplaece Marketplace for Dentists — and a Peek Into Healthcare’s Coming Disruption

One small step for dental practices, one giant leap for disrupting the entire healthcare procurement process.  

On Tuesday (May 30), Wellplaece announced the company’s Private Beta launch of its AI-driven platform that will give dental offices a single place to source, order and pay for the products they need offered by multiple vendors at competitive prices. Unique to its model is that neither buyers nor suppliers have to change how they buy or sell to take advantage of what Wellplaece offers. The company also announced $5.5 million in early-stage financing, which includes a $3.4 million seed round led by Eniac Ventures and Bee Partners, among others. 

But as Caen Contee, co-founder and CEO of Wellplaece, told PYMNTS’ Karen Webster, to think that the marketplace begins and ends with dental practices and fixing procurement would be to ignore the disruption in healthcare more broadly, as the practice models shift from private practice to practice groups with multiple locations and franchise-like processes and efficiencies. 

Simplifying procurement and managing those payments flows lays the tracks for creating the business operating system for these multi-site healthcare systems. Contee says that the same data that underpins the matching of supply and demand for suppliers creates a natural bridge to a dental office’s accounts payable system to send invoices. It can then sync with patient management software, anticipating the supplies needed for the ensuing months of treatment and further optimizing purchase patterns with the aid of AI. 

“The right suggestions, at the right time, with the right solutions,” he said, “will improve the practice by connecting all of these tools across Wellplaece.”

Phased Approach to the Network 

With previous stints at Lime and several venture firms, Contee has a vantage point from which to view the pain points of supply chains and logistics and how technology can help address those frictions.

The progression from scooters to healthcare may seem a leap, but Contee noted to Webster that the journey had been a natural one. “One theme throughout all of my career,” he said, “has been ‘tech for impact.’” He observed that with the insight gleaned from tackling the supply chain aspects of the mobility industry — and going, like everyone else, through the pandemic — there have been “behavior and transition trends” in all manner of verticals. Especially healthcare, the most critical of markets that demand a response.

“We’ve got to fix this,” he observed.

That’s when he discovered that, like an ill-fitting set of dentures, the dental supply chain was a perfect starting point for fixing the frictions that could hobble the efficient scale of the new healthcare service models. 

The $175 billion dental industry in the U.S. is one plagued by inefficiencies. Standalone practices, dental groups and Dental Service Organizations (DSO) navigate a fragmented landscape when ordering supplies, comparing prices and vendors and constantly monitoring prices to help boost or at least maintain operating margins.

Most practices, Contee said, rely on as many as half a dozen suppliers to order the equipment, disposables, anesthetic and even paper towels they need to keep things humming. 

The pandemic, with its global disruption of supply chains, which sent all manner of businesses scrambling to find new vendors and to re-examine their back office efficiencies, has given rise to a number of B2B marketplaces, including those that serve the healthcare industry.

For the dental industry, Wellplaece’s leverages what the company has termed “built-in AI” to help practice administrators “shop” for products and prices and to leverage aggregated customer volume to ensure the best possible pricing is secured — and offered — from the network of suppliers. Clients are only billed after their orders are successfully processed, placed and confirmed delivered. 

Contee told Webster that the “lightbulb” moment for the dental practices is the immediate benefit to their bottom line. 

“They don’t have to add to their finance team,” he said, adding that “[Wellplaece] immediately saves them money by cutting out the traditional methods where DSOs and practices pay brokers or suppliers and have to shuffle through, approve and pay a slew of invoices. Additionally, he said, the data set built up over a history of purchases can help the platform anticipate what a given practice may need in terms of supplies — and when — creating more efficiencies through just-in-time ordering and payment. Wellplaece also manages returns and chargebacks.

“The transition,” he said of the change wrought by Wellplaece’s model, “is that we’re building ‘procurement in a box’…and ultimately ‘practice care in a box.’” 

Getting to Ignition

Most new marketplaces struggle to get off the ground because there is a lack of buyer or supplier liquidity to make it useful.

Using AI, Contee said that Wellpaece got the supplier side on board by creating a unified catalog of all of the “curated suppliers” that could meet dentists’ demand. The Wellplaece team takes the (often PDF versions of) suppliers’ catalogs and digitizes them, along with the relevant SKU and product information and pictures, and puts them in a consistent format. 

That’s no small feat since SKU data is not standardized — and why the same product from multiple suppliers often sounds quite different. From the supplier’s standpoint, they were getting orders online just as they used to, no change required from them to fulfill an order. They just got those orders placed by Wellplaece on behalf of the dental practice. 

Buyers can save 20% on many products — and 40% if they opt for alternative or substitute products. Suppliers on the marketplace can compete for buyer business by sharpening their digital pencils on pricing. Preferred suppliers can pay Wellplaece a commission to be more prominently featured (and they also pay a per-transaction commission). 

Wellplaece can also offer practices financing (for a fee on the discounts tied to the products and through third-party financing) as part of the 30/60/90 day net terms, which in turn helps improve practices’ cash flow and working capital. 

All told, by the end of Q2, Wellplaece will have doubled its distributor and manufacturer supplier network, and is on track to onboard 100+ new locations over the coming quarters.

Contee noted to Webster that the platform has started to negotiate pricing for dental non-profits, with unique pricing tiers for different types of practices to expand access to affordable dental care for those patients. 

No matter the variations of the practices themselves, as Contee said, “It’s one person, one process, more automation and curated, high-quality deals.”

As he noted to Webster, automating with AI to create a better user experience for dental practices will mushroom into “a perfect storm of an innovation ecosystem” — leading to a next generation, advanced-tech-driven take “on how to do marketplaces.”