Brighter bags $15M to expand its marketplace of discount dental services across the country

Brighter, a Santa Monica-based startup offering discount dental services to patients paying out of pocket, has raised $15 million in a series C round meant to help the company expand beyond the Los Angeles area.

The round, which was led by Tenaya Capital and included existing investors Mayfield Fund and Benchmark Capital, follows $13 million previously raised. CEO and founder Jake Winebaum said the company plans to use the money to expand more broadly in Southern California and to start moving into other U.S. markets outside the state in 2014. Considering that people tend to search for dentists within two or three miles of their homes and offices, Winebaum said the company intends to take an Uber-style approach to expansion.

“It will take us some time to have a national footprint because of the nature of the business,” he said, adding that Benchmark’s Bill Gurley, who sits on Uber’s board, is also a member of Brighter’s board.

The startup first launched in 2011 with a discount dental club model in which subscribers received 60 percent discounts on dental services after paying an $80 annual fee. This June, the company took a new tack with a business model it says is more disruptive to the industry — and isn’t as similar to other discount dental sites. (Companies like Careington and are also in the subscription discount dental business.)

As opposed to charging users to access discount services, it offers dentists a paid service for listing and promoting their services. Dentists pay Brighter and agree to cheaper services in exchange for marketing and exposure, as well as access to more patients who can pay upfront (and therefore save them the hassle and time of extra paperwork and insurance claims).

Startups like PokitDok and HealthInReach similarly target consumers with online marketplaces that enable comparison shopping and more transparency into healthcare pricing, but don’t focus on the dental industry.