Relu: Cofinancing for AI orthodontics
Start-up Relu, founded in 2019 by 4 recent engineering graduates, developed an artificial intelligence-based algorithm to image the anatomy of the jaws, teeth and nerves via a 3D model. Thanks to that precise image – ‘the virtual patient’ – dentists can treat patients faster and more accurately. To support the high-growth company’s ambition, it found funding from PMV, complementary to funding from KBC, VLAIO and business angels.
Although the newly graduated engineers who founded Relu initially planned to use artificial intelligence for film dubbing, the technology also proved interesting for the dental world. Which today still uses old-fashioned and time-consuming software to plan dental treatments based on CBCT scans (3D X-rays). “Based on the AI analysis of many CBCT scans – every tooth is different – our intelligent system recognises the anatomy in a scan and automatically converts it into 3D models of the jaw, teeth, skull and even nerves without the intervention of a dentist. Those individual models are merged into a single 3D model, which specialists can interpret more easily, quickly and accurately and use for their digital planning. The solution is also more beneficial for the patients themselves: the greater accuracy reduces the risk of complications and makes treatment run more smoothly,” says Holger Willems, CEO of Relu.
Although Relu is already commercialising the technology behind the anatomical model (the first customers are already there), it is mainly the potential applications that could create great added value. “Whereas today we are working towards digital cube placement, our ambition is to develop web applications in all dental fields such as oral surgery and implantology. We are also considering capitalising on the so-called clear-aligner treatments that are popular in America and growing strongly in Europe. This involves correcting aesthetic tooth defects with removable and transparent braces. The strong regulation of the medical industry and doctors’ suspicion of cloud technology do pose major challenges, but the ubiquity of online banking shows that it can be done.” said Willems. Willems said.
The startup completed a development project in December 2020 with the advice and financial support of the Flemish Agency for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO). Meanwhile, the soon-to-be 12-strong company is growing strongly. “Thanks to the development project, we have laid a robust, intelligent technological foundation that we can now use to grow further. To do this, we not only need to attract the right people, but also finding the appropriate funding is a challenge. We sold licences to a multinational, raised money from business angels and complemented the VLAIO financing with a loan from KBC and a Cofinancing from PMV.
Ward Stynen, credit analyst at PMV, believes in the future of the start-up: “Relu’s AI technology has already convinced several product managers of multinationals and can be used to address new needs. A lot is still possible in the broad dental care market, which includes jaws and even faces. The task now, after the initial market traction, is to capture the market as soon as possible. We believe in both the technology and the team, and are therefore supporting Relu’s growth story with Cofinancing.”