By Alex Butler
Ian Rollin Berry, ’12, was planning on attending law school and creating a career representing professional football players. However, during his senior year at The University of Tampa, he began to formulate an idea for an all-in-one pre-pasted toothbrush, toothpick and floss.
Now, eight years later, he is the CEO of Brushee, a successful African American owned business with a goal to be a giant in consumer-packaged goods (CPG).
“It ended up taking so much of my time and concentration that I actually didn’t go to my orientation for law school and I just kind of declined my admission,” said Berry.
While a student at UT, Berry was introduced to the foundations of his current business structure.
“What I enjoyed about UT was that…it was clear that they had a system and infrastructure to make it dummy proof for you to be successful, so I take all of that into everything that we do because that structure is pretty integral,” said Berry.
Berry met Brushee’s current chief operating officer (COO), Kyle Kirby, in January of 2019.
“The level of validation the product received from the market was unusually high for such a young company,” said Kirby.
In November of 2019, Brushee launched their finalized product. They began to grow 100% for months, for over six consecutive months according to Kirby. From November to February, Brushee sold $36,000 worth of products on Amazon alone.
“We want to be known for pushing the bar in CPG,” said Berry. “We are wanting to take this past Brushee, we are positioning ourselves to be a direct to consumer CPG giant.”
Berry is pushing for his products to be innovative in more ways than one.
“When I first created this, I was extremely solely focused on…making oral care on the go easy,” said Berry. “But I’ve now recognized that there are things from a sustainability standpoint that we can do.”
Currently, he is working for Brushee to become a completely recyclable product by the end of 2021. Already the brush is made of 52% recyclable material. This includes High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS) plastic, which is 100% recyclable.
Amidst the growing movement to support black owned businesses, Brushee was funded by Clearbanc and highlighted on their social media. Clearbanc’s mission is to fund entrepreneurs and their growing businesses.
An article by Forbes said, “black-owned firms typically face greater challenges in securing capital than their white-owned counterparts.”
“I like to distance the consciousness of that as far from my mind as possible because I don’t find that productive,” said Berry. “I am succeeding in this and we are succeeding in this not because of the color of our skin but because we have a desire to serve and a desire for excellence.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, in 2018 only 31% of African Americans received all the funding they applied for, compared to 49% of white-owned businesses.
“I want to eventually set up a give back type of thing where a percentage of our profits can go to disadvantaged youth towards getting a scholarship,” said Berry. “I would love to secure the capital, funding, or resources necessary to make that happen and just give them the knowledge of how to do it.
“I would really push for any minority or anyone trying to go into entrepreneurship to find a mentor,” said Berry. “Getting insight from others who have experience can really open up your mind to different paths and avenues and I think that’s extremely valuable.”
Despite the support black owned movement, Brushee has not seen a related increase in sales. “I think that’s because those who want to support black-owned businesses probably aren’t looking online,” said Kirby. “It’s likely more difficult to discover the smaller businesses that would take some digging to learn about who the owners are, which is ironic, because I would imagine they’re the ones who need support the most during this time.