Washington, Nov 24: Five students from an American University have launched a social entrepreneurship programme to bring smiles, literally - to lives of millions of Indian children and prevent tooth decay among them.
The team of five students from the University of Pennsylvania tied up with Akshay Patra to start distributing specially developed Sweet Gum -- a xylitol chewing gum --which they say is a helpful tool in eradicating tooth decay.
Xylitol is a natural sugar substitute scientifically proven to prevent and reverse tooth decay. Beginning with the pilot project in the slums of Bangalore, these entrepreneurs are expanding it to other parts of the country as well.
University of Pennsylvania, in a statement said, it all started when one of its students Morgan Snyder traveled to Bangalore two years ago to work in slums where he noticed rampant dental disease in the slums of Bangalore.
On return, he and his friends thought about xylitol gum as the focus of their start-up business, which they were soon able to launch with the help of University professors. In July this year, loaded down with samples of Sweet Bites gum, they arrived in Bangalore.
Their plan was to distribute the gum by selling directly to the local store-owners in the slums and to look for partnerships with local schools and NGOs to develop a broader distribution network, the statement said.
Soon they tied up with Akshaya Patra, which provides meals to 1.4 million children throughout the country and to 200,000 children in Bangalore.
"One of our biggest partnerships is now with Akshaya Patra. It turned out to be one of our best connections in India because we are piloting with them this year to try to scale up from a few schools in the first quarter of 2015 to all 1.4 million of their kids," said Spencer Penn, one of the students.
The business now has two routes for distributing the gum, through their partnership with Akshaya Patra's feeding programs and through direct sales via "dental ambassadors".
These ambassadors are Indian dental students, hired by Sweet Bites, to encourage the store owners in the slums to sell the xylitol gum. In return, Sweet Bites pays the students' dental school tuition at a cost of USD 170 a year.
The dental ambassador system of distribution, says Penn, "was key to accessing this market without having to pay millions of dollars in advertising".