SmileDirectClub co-founder Alex Fenkell on tough pivots and giving back

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically shifted our lives, business operations, and outlook on the future. For companies like SmileDirectClub, which built its brand by manufacturing orthodontic appliances through teledentistry and remote manufacturing, this has been an opportunity to give back to healthcare providers doing some of the toughest work on the planet.

Today, co-founder Alex Fenkell joins us for a brief interview about what it means to give back in a time of crisis and the tough pivots that his company has made along the way.

Q: What has SmileDirectClub done to help healthcare providers on the front lines of this crisis?

AF: SmileDirectClub decided very early on to limit manufacturing of aligners at our facilities with our 3D printing systems. This has allowed us to manufacture over 40,000 face shields and other pieces of PPE for healthcare and dental facilities throughout the United States. Many healthcare facilities – like St. Luke’s Health System in Idaho, The Sick Kids Foundation, University of San Francisco, and many others – have received face shields and PPE, helping them get through what for many have been the toughest days of their careers.

Q: Businesses like your SmileShops are closed all over the country. How is the company dealing with this?

AF: We’re keeping our stores closed until it’s safe to reopen and see patients for non-emergency care. In the meantime, however, we’ve donated medical supplies, such as latex gloves and masks, to our retail partners CVS and Walgreens, to help protect their essential employees. CVS and Walgreens are helping Americans with critical needs during the outbreak, and we know that they need to be protected to keep us all safe.

Q: Dental offices are closed right now for all but emergency visits. How are dentists coping with this shift?

AF: We’re seeing massive changes in how people seek and receive medical care. To help our community out in this trying time, we’ve opened up our teledentistry platform to dental professionals, which allows them to communicate with patients remotely, efficiently, and safely. Providers can consult with patients securely, allowing them to give recommendations and arrange for emergency treatment without personal contact.

Q: What else is the company working on right now to help healthcare providers?

AF: Our biggest project at the moment, in partnership with HP, is finding a way to manufacture a 3D printed mask that meets the N95 standard. N95 masks prevent transmission of the virus better than any other, and they have been in extraordinarily short supply for months now. If we can manufacture a mask with a replaceable filter, we’ll be able to give healthcare providers and citizens access to quality, safe, and affordable masks to protect them now and well into the future.

Q: What else can you say about American manufacturing and innovation during this time?

AF: Innovation is key to survival. Without flexible, cutting-edge technology at our fingertips, we would not have been able to provide nearly as much help as we have.


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