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Dr. John Pham: Changing Orthodontics One Smile at a Time

InBrace founder and Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Pham grew up helping his parents, who emigrated from Vietnam, by selling bok choy and Asian herbs off the ramp of the Pomona (60) Freeway.

That’s why “entrepreneurship is in my blood,” he told the Business Journal.

Pham’s current entrepreneurial endeavors with InBrace offer a new way to straighten teeth, one that isn’t as “embarrassing” as typical braces or inconvenient, the company believes, as Invisalign.

His Irvine-based orthodontics firm has raised over $175 million since its first round of funding in 2017. It’s one of the biggest players in the $40 billion teeth-straightening industry, Pham said.

Last September, the company closed its Series D funding round with $102 million. Leading investors included Farallon Capital Management LLC and Marshall Wace, with additional investors including funds and accounts managed by BlackRock and RTW Investments LP.

On whether InBrace has plans to go public, and the timing for those plans, Pham declined to comment.

However, he said that if InBrace were to have an initial public offering, it “has the potential to be a multibillion dollar company.”

Pham was one of five honored at the Business Journal’s 21st annual Excellence in Entrepreneurship Awards event held on May 26 at the Irvine Marriott. After having returned from an international conference, and worried over potentially infecting others with COVID-19, Pham had InBrace Communications Manager Erin Eskew accept the award on his behalf.

College Dropout

InBrace isn’t Pham’s first startup.

In 1998, he dropped out of the University of California, Los Angeles during his first week of attendance to start an internet business called Mall Ventures with a few friends.

“My mom almost killed me for it. But I told her that if she let me drop out, I’d become the Asian doctor son she always wanted.”

When Mall Ventures “fizzled out during the dot-com bubble bust,” Pham re-enrolled in UCLA and then earned a degree in engineering.

In 2005, he started working as an aerospace engineer for Boeing (NYSE: BA) for two years.

But after completing his engineering degree, Pham’s mother reminded him of the deal they made years ago.

“Mama never forgets,” he said.

Since Pham was “too lazy” to go to medical school to fulfill his promise to her of becoming a doctor, “I went to dental school instead.”

School Project

Pham conceived the idea behind InBrace while completing his orthodontics residency at the University of Southern California.

Helping treat kids with cleft lip and palate at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles raised a lot of questions.

He wondered: “Is there a way for us to use technology so that [these kids] don’t have to come in from hours away every month, for five to six years for their tightenings? So they don’t have to endure all this psychological, social and physical pain? And so they don’t have to look worse before they look better?”

Since he couldn’t find one, Pham took it upon himself to create a device that could.
That device, invented in 2012 as part of Pham’s master’s thesis, later became known as InBrace’s flagship product: the SmartWire.

Unlike braces and Invisalign, the SmartWire sits behind the teeth and, leveraging computer modeling and artificial intelligence, gently moves them into place without the need for tray changes or tightenings.

Users can wear it while brushing, flossing, eating and drinking as they typically would, company officials said.

Within eight weeks of wearing it, users can begin to see a dramatic difference in their teeth, Pham said.

Two years after Pham invented the SmartWire, he founded InBrace.

Expansion Plans

Because SmartWire users can begin to see a difference in their teeth in just three to four weeks, Pham hopes it helps people enjoy their teeth-straightening journey rather than just the end result.

When it comes to dentistry, “we’re still stuck in a world of before and after.”

“Knowing that the future can be different than today—that’s what entrepreneurship is,” he said.

As part of its efforts to make the SmartWire more accessible, InBrace plans to have six training facilities, called InStudios, open by the end of this year.

The company opened its Irvine InStudio last year. Other locations will open in Tustin, Denver, Austin and Charlotte, Pham said.

In March, Pham stepped down as CEO and assumed the role of chief medical officer. Clint Carnell, who has founded and led multiple consumer healthcare companies, took over as chief executive.

Carnell recently grew Long Beach-based HydraFacial developer BeautyHealth (Nasdaq: SKIN) from a $175 million dollar acquisition to a public company with a market cap of $2.2 billion.

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