Driven–that’s one word to describe Alex Schmotter ’15, who successfully created a business while earning his DDS degree at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. His hydration beverage, pHenOH 7.4, hit the market in July 2014, going against brands like Gatorade and Powerade.
pHenOH 7.4 is the natural culmination of Alex’s life experiences. Alex’s father, Richard, is a dentist and an associate member of the Alumni Association, his mother, Peggy, is a professional chef who runs a catering company in Marin County, California, and his older sister is an elite triathlete. These influences, combined with Alex’s active lifestyle and passion for teeth, were key ingredients in his career path.
The vision for pHenOH 7.4 began to take shape during a bike ride in college when Alex was brainstorming for his senior biology research project topic. As a pre-dental student at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, he already had teeth on his mind, and while he rode his bike, he started to pay attention to the way he was consuming sugary sports drinks as well as their effects on his body.
Alex’s research project developed into much more when he started experimenting with recipes for a better alkaline sports drink, one that would be refreshing and effective without huge amounts of sugar.
The company is now a team of 14 and is growing rapidly. pHenOH 7.4 is already being distributed by several of the most influential distributors to many retailers throughout the Western United States, including San Francisco Bay Area Whole Foods stores. pHenOH 7.4 has now partnered with its first East Coast distributor, and Alex envisions the company growing to include multiple product lines reaching a broader consumer base.
“We want to be a brand — a wellness brand and a lifestyle brand,” said Alex. “We’re trying to develop a culture behind our product. We want to set new standards for operation and product quality in a long-standing and stagnant industry.”
Dental Student as an Entrepreneur
Alex recalled an advisor asking him, “So do most people, or does everyone, tell you that you’re crazy for trying to do this while in dental school?”
It’s a question he was asked many times during his time at the Dugoni School of Dentistry. Dental school and start-up life are both full-time commitments, but managing multiple priorities was not foreign to Alex. As a college student, he played on the lacrosse team and was constantly juggling practice and travel time with a heavy pre-dental course load. Life as a student entrepreneur gave him a unique perspective into his dental school classes and clinical work.
“I was sitting there in lecture learning again about the science that went into a product,” recalls Alex. “It was a very interesting experience because I would sit there and think, ‘That’s an angle or that’s a fact or that’s an approach we could take that I hadn’t thought of and would not have picked up on had I not been in the mindset of product development.’”
He appreciated that the Dugoni School of Dentistry’s Helix Curriculum is a competency-based curriculum that does not merely focus on completing a checklist of requirements. At the Dugoni School, the faculty’s goal is to develop various strands of knowledge to shape their students into excellent dentists who can care for their patients’ needs.
“During your third year, you’re not just showing up to work on a requirement,” said Alex. “You’re showing up to clinic to help your patients, and you’re enjoying what you’re doing. You step into this building, and you’re a dentist.”
What’s In His Future?
After graduation last year, Alex has been working a few days a week at his father’s dental practice in Marin to keep his dental skills sharp and learn more about the business side of dentistry. On the other days, he commutes to Palo Alto to work with his pHenOH team. He also hopes to incorporate philanthropy into his career as a dentist and entrepreneur. He is a newly appointed member of the Dugoni School’s Alumni Association Board of Directors with plans to serve two, three-year terms.
Travel and philanthropy are passions that run deep in Alex’s family. Alex and his father have gone on dental mission trips to places such as Kenya and Mexico, and Alex has developed a passion for what he describes as a “selfless way of seeing the world.”
Mission trips give him a chance to integrate himself into the community’s daily life. “You see a different side of the world and you learn that people are people,” said Alex. “And, I feel everyone across the globe has the same tendencies and unique characteristics in the way they do things and the way they act with others. Human nature is all the same.”
Alex has several humanitarian dental trips coming up this year. Recently, he visited Myanmar in Asia to provide dental care to the underserved population there. He will then head to Peru in May and Africa in August. “These trips are an amazing way for me to put my dental degree to good use,” says Alex. “The goal is for pHenOH 7.4 to be able to support an expanded effort to set up dental clinics all around the world.”