Investment Portal of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation

'Business is all about people'

A resident of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation will build Russia's most northernmost private dental clinic in the town of Pevek

06.12.2021 // In the next few months, Russia's most northernmost private dental clinic will open in the town of Pevek, Chukotka. In terms of technical equipment, the broad variety and quality of services, Vita Clinic is the only one of its kind in Chukotka. What's more, many regions of central Russia, which in Chukotka are generally referred to as the 'mainland,' have nothing like it. In our conversation with Andrei Lapin, the CEO of Vita Clinic, we discussed what it is like to do business in the Far North as well as the challenges an 'Arctic' entrepreneur might face and what helps him to tackle them.

'Chukotka is so dear to my heart'

Andrei Yemelin, 40, was born in Russia and for a long time lived in Ukraine. He was going to open a private dental clinic in the Ukrainian town of Slavutich when his life took an unexpected turn.

'In the early 2000s, my friends went to work at the Bilibino Nuclear Power Plant. Once, as they came back for vacation, they tried to persuade me to join them in Chukotka,' Andrei Yemelin says. 'I wasn't so keen to go there. Besides, to set up a medical practice in Chukotka, you needed money, which at the moment I didn't have. My friends introduced me to two local entrepreneurs. During a Skype call, we agreed that they would give me an opportunity to make some money for the project. I made it clear right from the start: if I don't like my new location I just up and leave. Those two guys in Chukotka subcontracted to me the assembly of fire alarm and video surveillance for the airport of Pevek, a tank farm and some smaller institutions. This is how I made about RUB 1.5 mn to buy equipment for my dental office. It opened in the town of Bilibino and was the first private dental clinic as well as the first private medical institution in Chukotka. That was 10 years ago.'

That practice in Bilibino turned out to be quite successful. Andrei says the demand was so high that the doctors were seeing patients continuously, from 9 a.m. until midnight, including weekends. 'The office worked almost non-stop, closing only for the night,' he recalls. 'So we had to to expand. To set up another clinic in Bilibino, I decided to rent a former production facility with an area of about 200 square metres that needed not just renovation but a complete overhaul. We invested a lot of money, effort and time into the project. However, a major utility accident that affected old networks adjacent to the building, almost completely destroyed the facility.

Needless to say, I was devastated. I just wanted to give everything up and leave,' Andrei explains. 'But even back then I knew Chukotka was something I would hold dear for the rest of my life. So I decided to have another shot at it, this time in Pevek, a town that helped me discover Chukotka. By that time, I had realised something else: big business requires big investment, dealing with big companies and aiming big.'

If you have a worthy project, money won't be a problem

But Andrei couldn't right away raise funds for a grand project.

'When I was launching my project in Pevek, I was broke. It was just my enthusiasm and an urge to achieve something big. It took me a long time to find the money. I tried it all! I negotiated with some people I knew on the "mainland." They had money but they weren't so eager to invest it. I tried to raise the necessary amount through crowdfunding but also to no avail. Within a year, I submitted 5 applications for a bank loan but nothing,' Andrei Yemelin explains. 'Still, looking back I understand: all in good time.'

The main financial aid was provided to the entrepreneur by the government bodies.

'The local authorities in Chukotka do support small-scale business. There is a Fund for the Development of Chukotka that is doing actual work rather than existing only on paper. The fund officials helped me come up with a business plan and provided a loan guarantee. The regional microcredit organization gave me a loan for RUB 10 mn to purchase high-tech medical equipment. Moreover, the interest rate wasn't 5% per annum as was the case for most companies. The project being deemed socially important, they only charged 1% plus the payment was deferred for a period of one year. The local Department of Finance and Economy reimbursed me 50% of the cost of the equipment. We used the money thus saved to renovate the building,' told us Andrei Yemelin. 'The Pevek administration also provided financial assistance by allocating funds to buy dental materials. Besides, we signed a contract with major gold mining companies to provide health services to their employees. So they financed some of the expenses, we incurred, in advance. As of now, taking into account our own financing, RUB 27 mn has been invested in the project. However, this is not enough: the clinic needs modern lab equipment. Obtaining residence will also be helpful, primarily in terms of tax relief.'

The building for Vita Clinic was leased from Polyarnaya, a gold mining partnership. The facility of 145 square metres will accommodate specialised offices, a sterilisation room with separate entrances for handling clean and dirty equipment, a lounge and, of course, a large reception desk. 'It's important that on entering the clinic a person should immediately feel comfortable,' Andrei Yeremin points out.

'The "mainland" doesn't have this but we do'

But, of course, a comfortable reception environment is not the only thing patients expect from the clinic. First and foremost, they seek high-quality medical assistance. And Vita Clinic provides the best of services. There is no doubt about it!

'While working in Bilibino, we bought state-of-the-art equipment you don't always find even on the mainland. As for digital technologies, we've been using these since 2013. Our clinic was one of the first in Russia to use a dental CT scanner that allows for the most accurate 3D diagnostics. We preceded many of our colleagues in buying an intraoral scanner, which produces digital images instead of jaw impressions. At a time, when in all of Russia, there were no more than 60 CAD/CAM systems (they simulate and automate the denture making process), we had one of these at our clinic,' Andrei Yemelin says. 'And we still have the same approach: we are not trying to save on sophisticated equipment. But then again, the same is true for usual supplies.'

Vita Clinic in Pevek will provide a full spectrum of all possible dentistry services both to children and adults. Among other things, it will offer complex implant and bone augmentation surgeries, etc. But the clinic's main principle is a holistic approach to the health of its patients.

'We offer a Dental SPA package, which is something like dental insurance. This programme is unique and was developed at our clinic. Those who join the program get check-ups and professional hygiene procedures at our clinic several times a year: prevention is the key to good health! Subsequently, we give the participants in the programme a long-term guarantee for services: for treatment — 5 years, for dentures — 10 and for implants — a lifetime guarantee,' Andrei Yemelin tells us. 'Some of our colleagues are surprised: how can we provide guarantees for such a long period of time? My answer is: we have a lot of confidence in our work and people must also have it.'

At the moment, most of the employees at Vita Clinic are Andrei Yemelin's college-mates but there is some local personnel too. Ten new jobs will be created in Pevek. In future, Andrei Yemelin is planning to set up a network of clinics in Chukotka: take the practice in Bilibino to a new level (Andrei would love to be the owner of a modular building); open subsidiaries in Anadyr and Egvekinot as well as launch mobile dental health stations that could travel to villages. Massive investment is required to implement such a project. But Andrei Yemelin is confident: if you show good results investors will turn up. Yemelin is now in the process of establishing a non-profit organisation, the Chukotka Health and Wellbeing Fund. He hopes that it will make fundraising easier.

'Clearly, Chukotka is facing some challenges that do not exist on the "mainland." The two biggest issues are transportation and logistics. But Chukotka also has something, which is rare for the "mainland": people coming together for a greater purpose. Some provide financial assistance and administrative support, others are prepared to do something for free. You will never see such unity on the "mainland." In Chukotka, you get to understand: business is all about people. That's why I'm doing business here,' Andrei Yemelin says. 'Although, I do realize that in my twilight years I will probably have to leave. But being the father of five children, I won't have any problem bequeathing my business. And I do wish everything, I created, lasted for a long time. I would love to leave some kind of legacy in Chukotka.'