By Danny Chan
Are you running a dental practice or dental business? If that sounds familiar, you’ve probably heard it being asked at one of many practice building seminars or motivational speaking type of event – in which case, you ought to know the standard answer: both.
Textbook response notwithstanding, it’s more satisfying talking to someone who has actually lived it out, and whose accomplishments alone make plain the thesis of a well-balanced equation.
Dr Mitch Innes certainly qualifies as a dentist who has excelled in both his clinical and business endeavours.
The specialist prosthodontist and his wife Hayley, a practice and business manager, oversee a thriving dual-site group practice that employs five full-time dentists. Additionally they run their own specialist clinic, a dental laboratory and a professional development company.
Been there, done that
Business hat firmly ensconced, Dr Innes is a renowned specialist prosthodontist at Sunshine Coast Specialist Prosthodontics, which he founded in 2016. He is the principal dentist at Bright Smiles Dentistry, a two-location practice he founded and recently partnered with Ekera Dental.
Along with lead ceramist Marc Collins, the lab-trained prosthodontist also developed Dental Smile Designers in 2018, a dental laboratory that produces case planning, as well as ceramic and implant restorations.
If all that isn’t enough, Dr Innes has found time to set up a portal that hosts dental professional development courses (www.dentalcpd.com.au), in addition to his private property and stock investments.
Downplaying his serial entrepreneur credentials, he shares:
“All that I’ve really done is to continue being a prosthodontist. So we've built our businesses out of what is the normal role of a prosthodontist. I agree, it's big, and there's lots of work involved with all of it.
“In terms of how I compartmentalize it, in my mind, it all goes hand in hand.”
Supportive community for dentists
The dentalcpd platform provides hands-on patient education courses in Australia for restorative/prosthodontic dentistry including crowns and full mouth rehabilitation, dental implantology prosthetics and surgery including implant placement and tissue augmentation.
For Hayley, the online portal is more than just a learning platform. It is a place where dentists can help and support each other.
“As someone who is not from a dental background, I’ve always found it very strange how closed dental practices are,” she adds.
“Through dentalcpd, we’ve had the opportunity to talk to hundreds of dentists in Australia and overseas and we’ve come to realise that everyone goes through the same challenges.
“This was especially true during the COVID-19 lockdown periods where so many dentists experienced the same struggles.
“It’s important for us to be in an industry where we can support each other, and that is part of the reason why we chose to partner with Ekera Dental.”
The Innes’ recently sold their Sunshine Coast-based Bright Smiles Dentistry group practice to acquisition firm Ekera Dental.
Set up in 2013, the first clinic is located in Brightwater at Mountain Creek and the second branch in Currimundi opened in 2017.
“In recent years on reflection and reassessment, my wife and practice manager Hayley, and I decided that our future passion lay with the specialist practice (Sunshine Coast Prosthodontics) and our professional development company (www.dentalcpd.com.au),” Dr Innes explains.
“As such, we looked to transition from the two general practices (Bright Smiles Dentistry).”
Admittedly “very protective” of their staff and patients, the couple held lengthy discussions with several suitors before deciding on Ekera Dental.
“The transition has been very, very soft,” Hayley continues, “and it has been very good for the staff.
“We've got two young boys, so the staff understood the hours that we were keeping and how demanding it was for us. And that has really worked for us.”
Relinquish and refocus
As hands-on practice owners who run a “tight ship”, the Innes wanted to make sure the new owner would relieve them of time-consuming back-end tasks while giving them the autonomy to focus on managing the clinical and customer-facing side of the operation.
“We've had to learn some new systems, but apart from that, it's been very seamless to date,” Dr Innes adds.
“The Ekera team has really taken a lot of the time-consuming work off of our shoulders – whether that be bookkeeping or accounts payable – and that has allowed us to really refocus on our core businesses and be able to be more creative day to day. “
If it ain’t broke
Calling Ekera Dental the “last man standing”, Dr Innes reveals that they had scoured the field in search of a buyer that would best preserve the modus operandi of Bright Smiles Dentistry, so that the management change would not be jolting for staff and patients.
Based on his investigations, the Ekera Dental business model of maintaining the status quo post-sale is far from commonplace.
“From a purely business perspective, it always intrigues me why anyone would take over a successful business, and then change it. You're buying it precisely because it has a successful business model specific to its location and patient community,” he notes incredulously.
“Whereas with Ekera Dental, they just want you to continue status quo – they’ve not imposed any restrictions on our daily activities.
“In fact, they want to know how we operate the businesses, our policies and procedures. They want to find out how we generate the income we generate, do the clinical work we do, and so on.
“They've learned a lot from engaging with the previous owners, which is great. And, you know what, that's a mutually beneficial relationship!”
Life of mentorship
Another type of mutually beneficial relationship that has shaped Dr Innes’ career is that of mentorship.
Interestingly, the recipient of coveted accolades such as the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons Award (University of Queensland) and the Australian Postgraduate Award (University of Adelaide) did not initially take to dentistry.
It took mentor, family friend and renowned dentist, Dr John Currey, to convince young Mitch to pursue a dental career – something he now looks back on as a “calling”.
After graduating with a BDSs (HONS), in between private practice jobs in Southeast Queensland and North Queensland, Dr Innes met other mentors who influenced his clinical development and sharpened his business acumen: Drs Michael Mandikos, Matthew Casey and Tony Rotondo – all industry heavyweights in their own right.
Yet rather than a working relationship structured around clinical or professional pursuits, Dr Innes views “mentorship” as a way of life.
“I was very lucky in that I grew up having really close relationships with my parents and grandparents, who were my first mentors.
“You’ve always got something to learn from people who are older and more experienced than you and that's something instilled in me since I was a kid.”
With the recent sale of Bright Smiles Dentistry, Dr Innes now has more time to give back to the virtuous cycle of mentorship – especially through dentalcpd.com.au
“Mentorship is central to our clinical team and has contributed greatly to our success,” he adds. “While it benefits both the teacher and student, more importantly, the patients are going to get better outcomes.
“Through our learning portal, there is a lot that our team of lecturers, including myself, can impart to those who want to hone their clinical, business or even laboratory skills.
“Who knows, for some dentists even sharing from my experience on how to handle multiple things on the go at one time might be of use as well.”