JLABS is a Johnson & Johnson-run incubator that seeks healthcare-oriented startups; one success story is qii, a tea developed to fight cavities.
Editor's Note: This story is part of an editorial series featuring companies on CR Magazine's 20th annual 100 Best Corporate Citizens ranking, which recognizes outstanding environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure and performance among the Russell 1,000 Index. You can follow the series here.
Aspiring entrepreneurs — listen up! This is the proper way to embark on your startup venture.
The scene: Ted Jin, a successful brand manager for Proctor and Gamble, had been working in the oral care field for a few years. He had that itch all entrepreneurs are familiar with: the need to create and innovate instead of maintaining the status quo.
In 2016, when this story takes place, research on the microbiome of the human body was just starting to take off. As it turns out, there are as many foreign cells in and on your body as there are native cells in your body. It’s unsurprising, then, that they have dramatic effects on your life and health.
Ted wasn’t just a pretty face. He was involved in product development and kept abreast of advancements in his field. Ted was a subject-matter expert. When news of the importance of our gut microbiome began to break, he wondered how important those microflorae were at the first step of the gastrointestinal tract – the mouth.
His next step is what distinguishes him as an entrepreneur.
Ted could have brought it up at the quarterly meeting where it would be put at the end of a list of innovations to explore. But Ted didn’t want to wait. He sensed that the iron was hot.
So he struck.
Ted left P&G and founded DoseBiome with little more than a hunch. He bet the farm on xylitol, a sugar substitute derived from plants that is commonly used to flavor gum and other zero-calorie snacks. A little-known benefit of xylitol is its ability to inhibit plaque formation, thus protecting teeth and gums from several common mouth diseases.
There was a catch, of course. Xylitol isn’t the kind of compound that hangs around. It’s carried off down the gullet via saliva every time a person swallows, so the effect is usually minimal. The trick was to get it to stay.
That would require a lab and lots of equipment, both of which carry a pretty steep price tag. Some businesses can be bootstrapped, but health startups are not one of them. Ted sought funding, as many entrepreneurs do, and landed on JLABS.
JLABS is a Johnson & Johnson-run incubator that targets healthcare-oriented startups. He applied to the program and was accepted, in part due to his experience in the field and the potential of his research. The incubator offered funding, mentorship, and lab-space complete with all the tools he’d need to get started.
Being accepted to an incubator is no small feat, but Ted didn’t rest on his laurels. He found six more quality team members and, together, they developed XyVita. This revolutionary compound solved the main primary drawback of nature’s Xylitol – it stuck around long enough to be of use in protecting us from plaque.
The next part was easy — make it into a tasty beverage so as to make to make the already-healthy choice an appealing one too. It’s convenient that the base compound was already sweet, so they only had to choose an appropriate drink to add it too.
The DoseBiome team settled on tea, which illustrates that they considered their target audience well. Tea is not only a popular beverage, but it’s proven to be healthy, so DoseBiome took the opportunity to double-up on their healthy-choice offering, making a product irresistible to health-conscious consumers.
The result was qii, a XyVita-infused tea that comes in five flavors: Lychee, Oolong, Pomegranate, White Peach and Lemongrass Ginger. I can confirm that Lychee, at least, is pretty tasty.
Getting a product to market is very difficult, and DoseBiome wisely leaned heavily on the expertise of their JLAB mentors to navigate the complexities of getting a beverage through not only manufacturing, but the regulatory hoops. Taking a food item that you developed all the way to store shelves is a daunting process, especially without an experienced coach to guide you through it.
You can now find qii throughout the U.S., available online, in health stores and some specialty grocery stores. By all accounts, Ted and DoseBiome are successful.
In true startup spirit, however, they didn’t stop there. They’ve raised additional funds, more than $4 million, and plan to continue developing new products instead of just riffing on their old ones. There’s a lot more to discover in the field of microbiome research, and DoseBiome will be at the forefront of it.
Image credit: qii/Facebook
Patrick Grubbs is an environmental writer with a keen interest in the interactions between people and ecosystems. Past work includes projects to integrate permaculture into architecture, community education of urban agriculture, and published research in aquatic ecology. He is currently based in Philadelphia, but spends most of his time traveling abroad.