Brother-sister social entrepreneurs John and Heather McDougall wanted to give landfill waste the brush-off.
So the Jamestown, N.D., natives invented the Bogobrush, a completely biodegradable, bamboo toothbrush with an altruistic bent. The “bogo” stands for “buy one, give one,” meaning that for every toothbrush they sell, they’ll donate a toothbrush to someone in need.
Heather McDougall gave a short presentation on their product during the community’s first Startup Weekend Fargo Friday at Ecce in downtown Fargo. The StartUp Weekend invites entrepreneurs to give a 60-second pitch for a venture. Participants then pick the top ideas and form teams. Over the next 54 hours, they work together to move those ideas toward reality.
The young woman told a group of 60 or so aspiring entrepreneurs that their project was motivated more by a desire to create sustainable products than it was by a need to make a lot of money.
The siblings believed they had what it takes to bring a new product to the marketplace. She is an honors graduate of the William Mitchell School of Law, and worked for a time for venture capital attorney and investor Brad Lehrman. John graduated from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit before becoming an automobile designer in Motor City.
But why did they sink their teeth into this particular product? For one thing, their father, Dr. Kenneth McDougall, is a dentist. For another, Heather says that 450 million plastic toothbrushes wind up in U.S. landfills annually. These basic tools for oral health are often ignored or overlooked. Many of the toothbrushes on the market today contain rubber grips and gimmicky shapes, but really don’t make toothbrushing any easier or more effective.
Heather and John’s research included trying out hundreds of toothbrushes from all over the world to see what they liked and what they didn’t. They also ran potential toothbrush materials through life cycle-analysis software to see what material would have the least impact on the environment.
In the end, they settled on a bamboo brush with biodegradable nylon bristles. The handle is completely without ridges and comfortably cylindrical. When the bristles wear out, the toothbrush can be buried in the backyard to decompose. “We realized that, more than any special sonic bristle, or expensive gimmick, just about the only thing that improved a brush’s efficacy was whether or not people cared enough about their brush to take the proper time to brush twice a day,” John told the Huffington Post.
The duo decided to adopt the “buy one, give one” concept — first pioneered by TOM shoes — after learning that 80 million Americans lack access to basic dental care.
Heather estimates it cost about $45,000 to develop and launch their product, although they were able to crowdsource some fundraising dollars through a website and campaign they developed themselves.
The McDougalls are filling pre-orders right now for their first production run of 10,000. You can pre-order a Bogobrush through the website, www.bogobrush.com. The cost is $10 (remember, that actually buys two toothbrushes) or $40 for a yearly subscription program.
To learn more about Startup Weekend Fargo, go to http://fargo.startupweekend.org/