“Manufacturing is cool again.”
This sentiment expressed by Kenny McDonald, chief economic officer, Columbus 2020, exactly reflects that of one of the city’s newest manufacturer. Alex Frommeyer, 27, co- founder of Beam, which produces smart toothbrushes, was drawn to manufacturing.
Named to the “2015 Forbes list of 30 under 30: Manufacturing,” Frommeyer created his company, with a friend, while studying engineering in college. The classes weren’t capturing their interest but building things did. So after graduation the two discovered they could “re-invent the dental industry by introducing sensors and connectivity into the consumer dental equation.”
What they needed was capital.
They found seed money in Louisville in 2012 through awards that helped them build their first version of the smart toothbrush. Called the Beam Brush, it received FDA 510 (k) clearance in July of 2012. The toothbrush has an embedded accelerometer that tracks the user’s brushing schedule. A sensor measures both how long the user brushed and how often. Information can be sent to a smartphone which in addition to providing a log of activity, encourages the user to brush a full two minutes ( nationally recommended standard.) The product launched in 2013.
The next step was a second round of capital. And they found it in Columbus, Ohio. “Since the recession there has been a realization that manufacturing makes a real difference in economic health,” explains MacDonald. “The interest in the field has led to more investment and interest that in the recent past.” Drive Capital, based in Columbus, invested $5 million in Beam.
At that point they had to evaluate where to locate. Columbus offered a variety of advantages. The first was the workforce. As technology will drive future innovation for the company, the software talent at Ohio State University was plentiful. “There are a lot of people working in technology in Columbus and it’s easy to recruit talent to this area,” said Frommeyer. In fact the Columbus Region is home to 63 colleges and universities with a total enrollment of more than 138,000 students and more than 22,000 annual graduates.
Secondly the area has a long history in manufacturing and thus can provide the necessary supply chain for the company including contract manufacturing partners. In fact 1,700 manufacturing companies employ 83,000.
Another part of the supply chain is biomedical research and Columbus is active in the area. Cardinal Health and Abbott Nutrition are the two largest employers. And world class research insitute Battelle calls Columbus home. While Battelle has made its mark in the energy area is also involved in health and life sciences research. Another resource that could be especially useful for Beam is BioOhio as the organization targets small- to medium-sized entrepreneurial organizations to help them develop and commercialize bio-life sciences technology.
"We are plugging into the public health ecosystem here in Columbus,” Frommeyer," says. There are 600 bioscience and biotechnology companies employing 20,000 in the area, and the city was ranked the third best for tech jobs by Forbes.
And a third factor drawing the company toward Columbus is that it’s the home of Drive Capital. The investor wanted a close working relationship with the company. In fact Frommeyer works out of Drive Capital’s office, which concentrates its investments in healthcare technology.
What drove Beam to Columbus has also been successful in driving other manufacturers to the area. “ In the first part of 2014, 40% of our new business/expansions came from the manufacturing sector and that is expected to continue through this year,” says McDonald. The sector brought in $11.6 billion in 2014. ( And productivity among manufacturing employees increased 48% from 2001-2014.)
All of this momentum is what Beam is counting on as it launched a second product, the Beam Brush Bug, which is a small adhesive accelerometer that can attach to any toothbrush or flossing device, in 2013 and a few weeks ago released a second version of the original brush. By the middle of 2014 the first production run of its original product sold out.
Just in case anyone doubts their loyalty to the location, its emblazoned on the website -- Made in the Midwest -- We are passionate about the Midwest and domestic manufacturing.