A UND Alumnus pursues a business venture after a bout of bad breath.
Twenty-four-year-old University of North Dakota alumnus and entrepreneur Johnny Forsberg says his business venture all started with a bout of bad breath.
“I was hanging out at a coffee shop and I’d just finished a cup of coffee so my breath didn’t smell very good. I had a couple more hours of school that day so I was asking everyone around me for a piece of gum,” said Forsberg.
No one had one, so Forsberg resorted to asking the barista.
“I offered her a dollar. Then I thought about it—if I was willing to pay for this, then other people might be, too,” said Forsberg.
That day, a small, smelly disaster was turned into a concept: a coffee sleeve that also provides consumers with a piece of gum.
Once designed, Forsberg needed to test-drive his new product. So, he did his first trial run at the Tim Hortons in Grand Forks. Though short-lived, Forsberg found it was a success. After presenting his idea at One Million Cups, a venue for entrepreneurship-based discussion, Forsberg met UND College of Business & Public Administration (UND CoBPA) Department of Marketing Instructor and Owner of Bully Brew Coffee Co., Sandi Luck.
“Sandi was instantly a friend,” said Forsberg. “She kept saying, ‘Why didn’t you come to me first!’ So I started testing them in her stores.”
This time around, Forsberg conducted a survey to see what people thought of the coffee sleeves. The survey asked questions like, ‘What do you think about the gum sleeve?’ and the customer would answer ‘it’s awesome,’ ‘it’s okay’ or ‘I don’t care for it.’
“Ninety-one percent said they thought it was awesome and the rest was it was okay,” said Forsberg. “There was only one person who said they didn’t like it.”
“People love them,” said Bully Brew Coffee House General Manager Kelly Winters. “Some people get embarrassed of lingering coffee breath if they have to go to a work meeting or something like that. So it’s nice to be able to pop that piece of gum in your mouth after you finish your cup of coffee and have minty fresh breath.”
Luck says she too has heard nothing but good reviews.
“I’ve never seen anything like it out there,” said Luck.
Though Forsberg actually graduated with a degree in Air Traffic Control, he attributes a great deal of his success to UND CoBPA entrepreneurship classes.
“They definitely helped me on my journey. I think they’re some of the best classes offered on this campus,” said Forsberg.
Forsberg also received a grant for the project from the UND Center for Innovation.
Luck says she feels Forsberg has what it takes to make his business venture a success.
“I think Johnny has this energy and passion that young entrepreneurs have,” said Luck. “It’s a process and it always takes process when you create and develop a product. We know people love it, and now I think it’s time to go to the next step,” she added.
Forsberg is currently in the process of fully patenting the coffee sleeves and searching for a large-scale manufacturer who is willing to take a risk on him. He is also working to get his product into corporate franchises such as Caribou Coffee and Starbucks.
While many consumers seem to like the concept, like any business venture, Forsberg does have a few hurdles to overcome.
“People will be interested and then it always goes back to, ‘How much can you make them for?’” said Forsberg.
While getting the production price down is Forsberg’s biggest challenge, he’s confident that as manufacturing begins, prices will decrease—so he will continue to push forward.
“It’s been a wild journey. It’s like when you walk in a dark room and you don’t know what you’re going to stub your toe on or kick,” said Forsberg with a laugh. “I’m going to work on this until it’s successful or it’s a catastrophic disaster.”