When Kutztown-based Radius Corp. founder Kevin Foley first approached drug stores about selling his company's innovative new style of toothbrush in the early 1980s, their answer landed with a thud: “You can't.”Foley's ergonomically-correct, right-and-left-handed toothbrushes — designed for comfort and improved function and made from recycled, plant-based materials — did not fit the antiquated “bristles-on-the-end-of-a-stick” model, said Foley and his daughter, Radius President and CEO Saskia Foley.
“They said that's the only way you could sell a toothbrush, and we said: So what? How ridiculous,” Kevin Foley said. “So we sold it to design stores like Brookstone. We went the alternative route.”
Over 3 million toothbrushes
That 35-year-old company operates two solar-powered factories in Kutztown. It sells more than 3 million toothbrushes, travel cases and replacement heads each year, and has shown consistent revenue growth, according to Saskia.
It's Totz brush is the No. 1 baby toothbrush in South Korea, thanks to a partnership with Tai-won Trading, and one of its original models, the Radius D.D.S, is part of the health and science collection at the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of American History.
The 35-employee company continues to innovate with a laser focus on environmentally friendly products and processes. Its products are primarily derived from renewable and recycled sources, including recycled paper money.
At a ceremony on Tuesday to honor entrepreneurs who think outside the proverbial box, Radius was recognized with an award for innovative application of technology.
The event, called the iXchange program, was sponsored by the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania at Lehigh University in Bethlehem.
About 450 people attended.
The Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania helps create jobs by connecting young technology-based firms and established manufacturers with experts, universities, funding and other resources in order to spur innovation.
Part of the economic development initiative of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, it is funded by the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority.
Since 1983, the Northeastern Pennsylvania chapter of the organization has created about 17,500 jobs, retained more than 27,000 jobs, started 492 companies and developed more than 1,500 new products and processes.
Its funding in the early 1980s helped Radius purchase an injection molding machine and a bristling machine.
“They kind of created us as a vertical manufacturing company,” said Kevin Foley.
Every dollar invested in the program has generated $3.60 in return, according to the organization.
The keynote speaker at the event, conducted at the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University, was Dustin Garis, whose company, Lifeprofit, works with companies to help them create greater social and economic impact.
In a lively address that he titled “Revolt Against the Routine,” Garis urged the audience to expand their life experiences, resist falling into innovation-squelching routines and avoid falling into a state of what he called “cognitive autopilot.”
That is the spirit that Saskia Foley said led her father to build a company around an everyday, ordinary product.
“They took something that was really silly, stick-shaped, not comfortable and that just never did a functionally good job in your mouth,” she said. “They took something like that and made it really luxurious and truly effective.”
Contact Jeff McGaw: 610-371-5071 or firstname.lastname@example.org.