Gator Dentists’ Business Idea Wins $10K Grant

Gator Guard Logo
The Gator Guard team has partnered with CRGO Business and Intellectual Property Law to initiate trademarking their brand name and logo with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Gator Guard: you may want to get familiar with that name. A quartet of University of Florida College of Dentistry innovators received a $10,000 UF Luby Microgrant this spring for their evidence-based mouthguard business idea after entering the Luby Microgrant Pitch Competition through the UF Warrington College of Business and the UF Entrepreneurship & Innovation Center.

Miles Turner, Raafi Zaman and Brennan Ertl from the DMD Class of 2024, and Thomas Koby from the DMD Class of 2026, pitched their Gator Guard business idea in the competition with a video presentation in December for help in bringing their mouthguard product to the market. In January, the team learned they’d been awarded the maximum $10,000 prize. Since businesses must already be started to enter the competition, prize money checks are written directly to the companies.

Judges reviewed pitches on a set of criteria including concept strength, market, economics of the business, operations, technical feasibility, management team and financing. In all, eight companies were awarded Luby Grants, though Gator Guard was one of just three to receive the maximum of $10,000.

Gator Guard is the first custom high-performance mouthguard of its kind to be 3D printed using Digital Light Processing technology, enabling advanced design accuracy down to 25 micrometers for a tailored fit specific to the unique shape of an athlete’s teeth. The internal lattice structure offers the best protection, absorbing and dissipating energy across the entire mouthguard surface, allowing greater protection using less material compared to custom mouthguards made by dentists.

According to the Journal of the American Dental Association, between 13 and 39 percent of dental injuries occur while playing sports like hockey, basketball, football, lacrosse and wrestling, resulting in sports governing bodies from all levels of athletics, like the National Federation of State High School Associations, to require mandatory use of mouthguards in various sports.

Luby Microgrant Award Winners
Turner, Zaman and Ertl are members of the DMD Class of 2024, and Koby is a first-year Gator in the DMD Class of 2026.

Insert Gator Guard, a mouthguard designed using evidence-based research in UF’s Center for Dental Biomaterials, entering a $5+ billion global sports mouthguard market estimated to grow almost six percent in the next decade, predominantly in the United States.

The team has invested in designing a logo for Gator Guard and partnered with CRGO Business and Intellectual Property Law to initiate trademarking their brand name and logo with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Turner, Gator Guard chief executive officer; Zaman, chief operating officer; Ertl, chief financial officer; and Koby, chief strategy officer, were mentored on the project by outstanding College of Dentistry faculty and researchers Mateus Rocha, D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D., Dayane Oliveira, D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D., and W. Stephen Howard, D.M.D.

Dr. Rocha
Dr. Mateus Rocha, Director of the UF Center for Dental Biomaterials is one of four UFCD faculty to mentor the Gator Guard team through the research, development and business-planning phases.

“From the time I first put on skates until around 17 years old, I can only remember wanting one thing: to play in the National Hockey League,” Turner said. “Even after it became clear that my athletic ability wouldn’t get me there, I still dreamt of being a part of an NHL organization. I believe that the education I’ve received at the UF College of Dentistry, and the amazing group of people committed to Gator Guard’s success, will allow me to achieve this dream. It is my goal to grow Gator Guard into a premier brand that athletes at all levels will trust. I also aspire to work with an NHL team dentist to continue my lifelong passion of learning.”

Rocha, director of the Center for Dental Biomaterials, Oliveira and Howard mentored the team through developing the mouthguard utilizing evidence-based science tested in the dental biomaterials lab at the college, while advising Turner, Zaman, Ertl and Koby as they developed a business plan and navigated the steps to bring Gator Guard to market.

“Research is one of the most important aspects of the DMD curriculum, as it allows students to gain a deeper understanding of the field and to contribute to the development of new treatments and technologies,” Rocha said. “For the Gator Guard team, research was a key component of their project as they worked using evidence-based dentistry to develop a new mouthguard technology. This learning experience extends beyond the classroom, as it can have a real impact in the world of sports and dental health. For the Gator Guard team, the opportunity to see their research ideas become a real product is a rewarding and exciting experience for everyone involved.”

There’s no stopping the team now. They’re in the thick of the Big Idea Competition, hoping to garner additional funding – up to $25,000 – for Gator Guard. The top 16 finalists for the Big Idea Competition will be announced April 10 and all 16 will present their business plans on April 20. The final four competition will be April 21.