Solving Problems Kim Lachance Shandrow  | December 15, 2017

How a Toddler’s Toothpaste Binge Sent Two Sisters Down the Entrepreneur’s Path

Welcome to #BizUnited, a new series highlighting innovative partnerships between large corporations and small businesses across America. Check back periodically for new installments.

When longtime breast cancer surgeon Paris Sabo noticed her toddler eating toothpaste, she was shocked and scared. But that’s also when the entrepreneurial lightbulb went off.

She quickly called up her veteran dentist sister, Dr. Pooneh Ramezani, and shared an innovative business idea with the fellow mom. They could create safe, effective toothpaste and mouthwash free of potentially harmful synthetic chemicals. And they could do it together.

“As a mom, seeing my young three-year-old swallow toothpaste like it was the best-tasting chocolate frightened me,” Dr. Sabo, who emigrated to the U.S. from Iran with her sister 33 years ago, said. “My sister and I created the Dr. Brite brand to make these wonderful products with natural ingredients available to everyone.”

In July 2015, the entrepreneurial sisters launched Dr. Brite, their Irvine, Calif.-based certified B Corporation and cruelty-free organic dental care company. Their one-of-a-kind toothpastes, mouthwashes and teeth-whiteners — all made in the U.S.A. — are free of harsh ingredients, such as triclosan, carrageenan, sodium lauryl sulfate, fluoride, propylene glycol, titanium dioxide and aspartame.

Last May, the sisters’ ambitious social enterprise garnered the attention of famous fashion designer Tory Burch — along with a sizeable investment from her foundation. The Tory Burch Foundation, which empowers women entrepreneurs by providing access to capital, mentoring and networking opportunities, awarded Dr. Sabo a $100,000 business education grant as part of its fellowship program and pitch competition. The money was used to improve Dr. Brite’s branding and packaging, and to boost production.

“All of the Fellows delivered compelling pitches and are passionate about their businesses,” Tory Burch said. “It was an excruciating decision, but we were extremely impressed with Paris’ goals for Dr. Brite. We look forward to seeing how this investment will continue the momentum of her business.”

Winning the pitch competition wasn’t just a dream come true for Dr. Sabo, it also confirmed that she made the right choice in going into business with her sister.

“Winning the pitch competition validates me leaving my surgical practice and taking a huge leap of faith to create products I believe can change the world,” she said.

We chatted with Dr. Sabo’s sister and co-founder Dr. Ramezani to find out how the siblings’ company is growing, how they give back and what they’re most proud of as women entrepreneurs. Here’s what we found out:

What problems is Dr. Brite solving through its products and services?
“Our line of all natural, 100 percent vegan, plant-based oral care products enable people to maintain oral health naturally, without harsh additives, chemicals, toxins or carcinogens. I’m a dentist of 20 years, but also a mom, so it’s concerning to me that it only takes about six seconds for stuff you put in your mouth to get into your bloodstream. It’s even faster than when you put something on your skin. My sister and I started talking about what we were putting into our mouths — and into our kids’ mouths — on a daily basis and we reevaluated everything, and that’s when we came up with the idea for Dr. Brite. We’ve had years of careful research and design to make sure our toothpaste is as natural and safe as possible and we are completely transparent about all of our ingredients on our labels.”

What does an investment through the Tory Burch Foundation mean to you?
“We had taken part in something similar through Burt’s Bees, and we were interested in seeking out investments through similar big-brand startup initiatives. My sister was one of the fellows that was picked to participate in the Tory Burch Foundation’s four-day training in New York City with Tory herself, and the following pitch competition. We were really excited to be chosen and got a lot of exposure out of that incredible experience. We were thrilled to win the grand prize of the competition, which we used to buy some equipment that we really needed at the time. We use a lot of equipment because we make, pack and ship our products on our own, from our own lab and manufacturing warehouse.”

What is your market reach like now, and where are you products currently available?
“Right now we’re a small but growing brand, with an eye on expanding our market reach. We’re available online, on Target.com, UrbanOutfitters.com, Amazon.com, through our own website, and in some stores, Target included, and some mom-and-pop type stores all over the U.S. We’re trying to make a name for ourselves alongside some really big legacy toothpaste and mouthwash brands in the same spaces that they’re in. We understand that it will take time and diligence, but we will get there.”

How many employees do you have now, and how have you scaled over time?
“We have a small team of 10 now, headed up by my sister and myself. We started with one full-time warehouse employee and scaled up to four. We have four other employees who are in charge of our digital marketing, who we’re proud to credit for our considerable reach on social media.”

How do you give back to your community as social entrepreneurs?
“We donate our natural products to people who don’t have the means to pay. We also work with the local, Irvine, Calif-based Jamboree Housing, a nonprofit housing development agency that offers affordable rental and ownership housing for lower-income families and seniors throughout California.

Also, as a certified B, or “Benefit,” Corporation we represent a new kind of business that applies their power and resources for public good. It shows that we are committed to making a difference while meeting comprehensive, higher standards of corporate social responsibility, environmental performance, accountability and transparency.”

What are you most proud of as women entrepreneurs?
“Founding a company that is socially conscious, environmentally sustainable and focused on people’s health is very near and dear to our hearts. My sister and I emigrated from Iran back in 1984, and just knowing that in the world there are countries, such as Iran, where women have no rights, and they can’t work let alone run a corporation, and certainly aren’t treated as equals…this is what fuels us, keeps us passionate and pushes us forward. It feels really good.”