While researching his thesis for Phoenix's Thunderbird School of Management in January 1992, former accountant Mannti Cummins stumbled upon some numbers that to him shouted opportunity. Just 4% of Mexico's population visits private-sector dentists in a year -- a figure unchanged since 1970 -- and 7% visits public-sector dentists. That compares with a U.S. dentist-going population of 60% (mostly to private offices). Cummins's classmate David Felix, whose father is a surgeon in the Mexican city of Hermosillo, corroborated the statistics: that city of 350,000 had just 6 dentists. Cummins and Felix proceeded to draw up a business plan for a group dental plan. Incorporated last January, Servicios Dentales, based in Hermosillo, plans to start with 15 dentists and attract 2,000 patients in its first year, and within five years expand to 1,000 dentists, 500,000 clients, and five cities. After shopping the proposal around to some 150 U.S. managed-care providers, last December the two students found a joint-venture partner: Health Care Horizons, based in Albuquerque. It invested $250,000 for a 50% equity stake. Servicios Dentales charges members an average of $10 a month, and like health-maintenance organizations, it offers basic services free and more complicated procedures at a reduced rate or with a small copayment. Cummins says Servicios Dentales is adding about 100 new members a month and expects first-year revenues of $70,000.

-- Alessandra Bianchi

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