Bogobrush is creating positive social change two toothbrushes at a time

Fargo-based Bogobrush is striving to alter the toothbrush industry with its sustainable toothbrushes.

Bogobrush’s mission and marketing scheme are built into the company name—the toothbrushes are buy one, give one. For each one sold to a customer, a toothbrush is given to someone in need through a number of organizations Bogobrush partners with, including Detroit’s Covenant Community Care, the Twin Cities’ Apple Tree Dental, and Fargo’s Family Healthcare, per the Bogobrush website.

Heather McDougall, co-founder and CEO of Bogobrush, will be presenting at 1 Million Cups Fargo on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. McDougall and her brother John started Bogobrush about five years ago. The McDougalls grew up in North Dakota, and their father is a dentist. They view Bogobrush as their way of following him into the family business. The toothbrush struck them as a widely used product with a lot of room for improving its environmental impact.

“There’s so much waste in toothbrushes, and a lot of oral health need even in the U.S.,” McDougall said.

The toothbrushes are made of left over plant materials, biocomposites and recycled plastics (which can in turn be re-recycled).

Neither McDougall sibling was an entrepreneur prior launching Bogobrush, but they both shared a passion for socially beneficial projects. John McDougall is an industrial designer by trade.

“He designs cars by day and toothbrushes by night,” Heather McDougall said.

Heather McDougall completed law school, and she worked in lobbying and in venture capital prior to launching Bogobrush. She was looking for a way to combine entrepreneurship with activism.

“I really wanted to do something with social change and social justice issues,” she said.

Bogobrush has had enough success over the years that they were recently approached by a corporate buyer. As with all aspects of the company, McDougall said they tried to do what was truest to their original vision, ultimately deciding it wasn’t the right time to sell.

“The challenge is being a value-based company,” McDougall said.

There were hurdles earlier in the company’s life, as the McDougalls sorted out the details. One big challenge they faced when they were starting was that they initially wanted to make toothbrushes out of bamboo. In a lifecycle analysis, bamboo was one of the best materials available at the time they were working on it. They even successfully took bamboo Bogobrushes through rounds of pilot testing, but then 50 percent of their product was ruined in manufacturing. Luckily, by the time they had determined bamboo wasn’t viable for their toothbrushes, another Fargo company had developed biocomposites that were better suited to the task, presenting a way forward.

McDougall highlighted this as an example of the way many solutions to company issues have come from local sources and connections. She described Bogobrush locally sourced and community driven.

“North Dakota’s given us a lot of support in general,” she said.

As the company expands, McDougall said the company will hopefully create similarly close ties in each region it moves into. For the near future, they are currently working on developing new materials for their adult collection, as well as working on a children’s collection too.

With each decision, they will keep the original Bogobrush vision of a beautifully designed, sustainable product that affects positive change central to the process.

“Doing good is good business,” McDougall said.

On July 11, the same day as the 1 Million Cups presentation, McDougall will also be teaching a “Power + Presence” pop-up yoga class at Randi Kay’s studio in Fargo at 5:30. Register for the event here.