Entrepreneur Spotlight: Powered by EnterpriseCorp Beam Technologies
There are many mundane but necessary reasons to brush your teeth. Although you benefit from the activity, it’s not necessarily something that you look forward to each day.
Alex Frommeyer, one of the founders of Beam Technologies, co-invented the Beam Brush and wants to change that perception. The Beam Brush is a manual toothbrush with sensors that track brushing activity and transmit that information to an iOS or Android smartphone via Bluetooth.
Beam Technologies completed a significant milestone when they received clearance from the Food and Drug Administration for the Beam Brush earlier this year.
“Most people don’t know that toothbrushes are medically regulated devices,” said Frommeyer.
Until the Beam Brush came to market, the FDA had two classes of medical toothbrush devices: the manual and the powered toothbrush. Based upon FDA protocol for manual toothbrushes, Beam Technologies did not anticipate that they would need formal approval, so they submitted the design and prepared to move forward with marketing.
“Ultimately, the FDA, as a regulatory agency, has to err on the side of caution,” said Frommeyer. “We’re the first people connecting a toothbrush to a cell phone. So they required that we receive clearance.”
There was also an element of bad timing. Two weeks before Beam Technologies sent notification to the FDA, several models of the Sonic Spinbrush toothbrush failed some tests because the heads of their toothbrushes were snapping off in people’s mouths, potentially choking them. Although it was not a widespread problem, toothbrushes were receiving negative media attention.
“For awhile, that was one of the big things for our company,” said Frommeyer. “…Investors are nervous because if you don’t get that clearance, you’re done. Even though we never thought that we wouldn’t get it, it’s still one of those things that’s sitting there.”
After four months, Beam Technologies received full clearance and the FDA has now created a new toothbrush class: the connected toothbrush.
As of September, Beam Technologies had already pre-sold more than 2,000 Beam Brushes out of their initial supply of 10,000 devices. The device is popular among tech-savvy parents who are teaching their four to 10 year olds healthy dental hygiene habits. There is also a growing population of adults who are interested in collecting their own personal data. And the Beam Brush is the only product that tracks and stores dental data.
Frommeyer also expects demand to increase once dentists and insurance companies realize the value in the brushing data. Until recently, dentists only had two data points per year for their most compliant patients during their biannual cleanings. The Beam Brush will provide previously unavailable data that leads to better care.
“I come from a family of dentists,” said Frommeyer. “I thought I took really good care of my teeth. When I finally started timing it and using a product that quantified it, I discovered that I only brush my teeth for a minute at night – not the dentist recommended magic of two minutes. As a result, I’ve had a personal behavioral change.”
Frommeyer’s work is all the more impressive when you consider that he was still an undergraduate student at the J.B. Speed School of Engineering at the University of Louisville when he co-founded his first startup.
“I was lucky to have a couple of really good friends who entertained those conversations,” said Frommeyer. “My now partners – we were homework buddies. Alex Curry lived next to me in my freshman dorm. Dan Dykes sat next to me in calculus while we were freshmen.”
“I was working at a local construction company for my co-op [internship],” said Frommeyer. “I got to the point where I finally understood, because I was living it, that I needed to truly own what I was doing…Keep in mind that I was a 21-year-old intern, floating around this established construction company, trying to make decisions…I started to see that I’m a disrupter – not good for the company’s sake. But, in turn, that meant I needed to start my own company.”
“I quit working there on a Wednesday and I was filing paperwork for a LLC with the secretary of state by Friday,” said Frommeyer. “Simultaneously, I was pulling my two partners into the fold…That was 2009.”
“What did the first day of business mean for us?” said Frommeyer. “We had no idea. We didn’t start with some genius inspiration. We had no money. None of us had the rich uncle who was going to seed the company. We were still full-time students. There were a lot of reasons why we shouldn’t have done that. All the things I would advise entrepreneurs to have – make sure you have an idea, make sure you have connections in the business community, some advisers – we had none of that. We knew that we liked to work together. We wanted to build some cool stuff. And we were interested in exploring what it meant to own a business via startup. So, from that perspective, we did everything absolutely wrong.”
Although their entrepreneurial efforts were met with confusion and skepticism among some of their classmates, the senior leadership at U of L extended significant support to the new startup.
“President Jim Ramsey took the time to pull U of L’s vice president of research; a prominent lawyer and adviser to the Board of Trustees at U of L; and Vickie Yates-Brown, who runs Nucleus [U of L’s business incubator] all together,” said Frommeyer. “He got all three of them to drive onto campus for an afternoon and talk about what we may need as a new company and what it meant to be a private company, but still be students,” said Frommeyer.
“Louisville’s startup community is small and extremely well networked and extremely generous,” said Frommeyer. “When I speak to people outside of Louisville, it bothers some of them that we don’t have a formal board of advisers or mentors. They don’t understand that my board of mentors is hundreds of people thick…It’s because I met one guy who introduced me to the next guy. That world closed very fast for me and it’s because everybody wanted to help. I’ve never paid any of [my board of mentors] one dollar. In fact, some of them have given me some of their dollars…I’m a born entrepreneur, truly, but there were times early on, if not for somebody sneaking in there and giving me the ‘Do this. Do not stop. You will figure this out’ speech, there are scenarios where we don’t exist. The community is very generous with their time especially. And it’s never about money around here.”
“A lot of early projects were people throwing us a bone,” said Frommeyer. “They were charmed by the idea of these barely out of the teen years kids who want to change the world…We saw front to back how to run a business. And it gave us some startup capital, which we didn’t realize that’s what we were doing at the time.”
“We asked ourselves: Are we starting a company to have a job or are we starting a company to change the world?” said Frommeyer.
“We’re going to change the world with the Beam Brush,” said Frommeyer.
EnterpriseCorp is the division of Greater Louisville Inc’s economic development team that works with early-stage tech companies in the region.
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