Entrepreneur Encourages Students to Seize Opportunities
Founder of 'Invisible' Braces Firm and Other Innovators Share Business Success Stories
Years ago, when Lea Nesbit worked as a short-order cook by morning and a shoe saleswoman by afternoon, she probably never dreamed she’d one day create a startup that would revolutionize the orthodontics industry by producing “invisible” braces.
Dental technology entrepreneur Lea Nesbit urged students who hope to start businesses to be patient and tenacious. “One year in a startup equals seven years in a ‘normal’ company,” she said. “It’s kind of like dog years.”
Nesbit, one of a dozen entrepreneurial executives who took part in a C-Suite Dinner at the Naveen Jindal School of Management on Oct. 26, saw an opportunity after wearing braces herself years before. The experience inspired her to find a new approach to straightening teeth that uses proprietary technology to offer innovative orthodontic treatment.
Nesbit co-founded and was CEO of Lingualcare Inc., a maker of customized invisible braces that won the Dallas 100 Entrepreneur Award in 2007 and was sold to 3M Co. later that year. The product was unique because it was 100 percent customizable and worn on the interior, or lingual, side of the teeth.
“I have to admit, I’ve never been a real planner with my career. I’ve just felt real lucky and opportunistic,” said Nesbit, who has recently launched another dental technology business venture, Natural Dental Implants, based in Berlin with an operation in Dallas. “I think 80 percent of life is showing up. It’s being there, engaging and then things happen.”
The second annual C-Suite Dinner, sponsored by the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UT Dallas (IIE) and the Entrepreneurship Club, offered students and alumni the opportunity to learn how 12 successful entrepreneurial executives had managed the trials and tribulations of launching their own companies. After each executive stood up and gave a short description of his entrepreneurial trials, the business students joined the executives at small tables for more personal dinner discussions.
Students at the C-Suite Dinner met with executives for discussions about starting businesses.
At Nesbit’s table, diners listened and asked questions about how Nesbit had the passion to persevere as an entrepreneur, turning successful ideas into businesses.
Her advice? Find something you’re passionate about, use that passion to drive your business, be patient and tenacious. “One year in a startup equals seven years in a ‘normal’ company,” she said. “It’s kind of like dog years.”
Also, do your homework. Research the competition, determine how you’re going to position your product and learn everything you can about your product space before you begin, Nesbit advised.
“I would go to orthodontists’ offices and they’d start pulling models off the shelves to show me these cases. They’d say, ’Look how it started and how hard it was and look how great it turned out,’ and I’d ask them how they did that. After I learned a little more and learned some people use one type of system and some use another, I’d ask them why they used one type over another. Really what I wanted to understand was their thought process,” Nesbit said.
For senior neuroscience major Mohamed Mahmoud, who sat at Nesbit’s table, the event was a chance to build some executive connections and gain some tools to better understand the business world.
Mahmoud’s next stop after graduation is probably the UT Dallas cognition and neuroscience graduate program, but his ultimate dream of pursuing a career as an entrepreneur now seems more attainable, he said. The discussions he had with the business pioneers have inspired him to take some classes in business and entrepreneurship next semester.
“Aside from the helpful advice they personally gave me, their sheer excitement was enough to fuel me into considering a second degree in business,” he said.
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