Breath of fresh air

UND alumnus brews up a business venture after a bout with coffee breath

Johnny Forsberg

Though Forsberg actually graduated from UND with a degree in Air Traffic Control, he attributes a great deal of his success to entrepreneurship classes he took along the way. Those classes and a chance meeting gave him the confidence to invent a product that clearing the air in coffee shops around the region. Photo courtesy of Averi Haugesag.

Twenty-four-year-old University of North Dakota alumnus and entrepreneur Johnny Forsberg says his business venture all started with a bout of bad breath.

“I was hanging out at a coffee shop and I’d just finished a cup of coffee so my breath didn’t smell very good,” Forsberg recalls. “I had a couple more hours of school that day so I was asking everyone around me for a piece of gum.”

No one had one, so Forsberg resorted to asking the barista.

“I offered her a dollar. Then, I thought about it—if I was willing to pay for this, then other people might be, too,” he said.

That day, a small, smelly minor disaster turned into a concept with promise for Forsberg — a coffee sleeve that also comes with a side of gum.

Johnny Forsberg

A close up view of UND alum’s Johnny Forsberg’s brain child to attach a piece of gum to coffee sleeves at local coffee shops to help patrons freshen their breath post java. Photo courtesy of Averi Haugesag.

‘Luck’ would have it

Once designed, Forsberg needed to test-drive his new product. He conducted his first trial run at the Tim Hortons in Grand Forks. Though short-lived, Forsberg found it was a success. After presenting his idea at One Million Cups, a Grand Forks-based venue for entrepreneurial discussions, Forsberg met Sandi Luck, a marketing instructor at UND’s College of Business & Public Administration (CoBPA)

Luck is also owner of Bully Brew Coffee Co., a local coffee shop.

“Sandi was instantly a friend,” said Forsberg. “She kept saying, ‘Why didn’t you come to me first!’ So I started testing them in her stores.”

This time around, Forsberg included a survey to see what people thought of the built-in gum coffee sleeves.

“Ninety-one percent said they thought it was awesome and the rest was it was okay,” said Forsberg. “There was only one person who said they didn’t like it.”

“People love them,” said Bully Brew Coffee House General Manager Kelly Winters. “Some people get embarrassed of lingering coffee breath if they have to go to a work meeting or something like that. So it’s nice to be able to pop that piece of gum in your mouth after you finish your cup of coffee and have minty fresh breath.”

Luck says she too has heard nothing but good reviews, “I’ve never seen anything like it out there.”

Entrepreneurial sense

Though Forsberg actually graduated from UND with a degree in Air Traffic Control, he attributes a great deal of his success to CoBPA entrepreneurship classes.

“They definitely helped me on my journey,” he said. “I think they’re some of the best classes offered on this campus.”

Forsberg has also received a grant for the project from the UND Center for Innovation.

“I think Johnny has this energy and passion that young entrepreneurs have,” Luck said of Forsberg. “It’s a process and it always takes process when you create and develop a product. We know people love it, and now I think it’s time to go to the next step.”

Johnny Forsberg

Sandi Luck, a UND maketing instructor, let Forsberg try is product out at her local Grand Forks coffee shop, Bull Brew Coffee Co., (above). Photo courtesy of Averi Haugesag.

Hurdles remain

Forsberg is currently fully patenting the coffee sleeves and searching for a large-scale manufacturer who is willing to take a risk on him. He is also working to get his product into corporate franchises such as Caribou Coffee and Starbucks.

While many consumers seem to like the concept, like any business venture, Forsberg does have a few hurdles to overcome. Getting the production price down is Forsberg’s biggest challenge

Forsberg says, “People will be interested, and then it always goes back to — ‘How much can you make them for?’”

Forsberg is confident that as manufacturing begins, prices will decrease—so he will continue to push forward.

“It’s been a wild journey,” says Forsberg with a laugh. “It’s like when you walk in a dark room and you don’t know what you’re going to stub your toe on or kick. I’m going to work on this until it’s successful or it’s a catastrophic disaster.”

–Averi Haugesag, College of Business & Public Administration writer