Consumer VC Backs Tongue Cleaner Famous for its Viral Videos

Tongue-brushing isn’t currently part of most people’s personal hygiene routines. But if a startup from the Beehive State has its way, the practice could be as common as popping a breath mint.

Orabrush, a Provo, Utah-based developer of a dedicated brush for cleaning the surface of the tongue, has made a mission out of convincing people that its product can do a superior job of eliminating bad breath than mints or mouthwash.

Last year, it launched a YouTube video that became something of a pop phenomenon, featuring a halitosis-phobic man scraping his tongue with a spoon and smelling its residue, and ending with a sales pitch for Orabrush. The company, which has launched several more videos since then, estimates that its clips have been viewed more than 25 million times.

All that viral online attention has helped the company garner the attention of investors. Last week, Orabrush closed an early stage funding round of an undisclosed size from 2X Consumer Growth Partners, a Chicago-based fund that invests in consumer products startups.

For Orabrush, the viral success of its video campaign has also generated some sales. Orabrush COO Neal Harmon says that the company has sold about $1.25 million worth of its brushes over the Internet and is in the process of expanding into more retail locations. The brushes sell online as two-packs for $7.99 and have a suggested retail price of $4.49 in stores.

2X Managing Partner Andy Whitman says that the firm found Orabrush appealing because it represents an opportunity to carve out a new niche in the crowded oral hygiene market.

“We love category creators, because categories are what tend to revolutionize things and create real value,” Whitman says. “They take a lot of work and they’re hard and many of them don’t work, but we believe this has tremendous promise.”

2X Consumer’s website says that its focus is on food and beverages, personal care products, home care, pet care and other branded consumer lines. The firm’s other investments include gDiapers, which makes eco-friendly diapers, and Tasty Bite, which produces off-the-shelf Indian foods.

In addition to Whitman, the firm includes Managing Partner Gary Sebek, a former CEO and CFO in various organic businesses, and the firm counts Michael Levinthal as a special limited partner. Levinthal is a former 20-year veteran of Mayfield Fund and has invested in consumer brands such as Pete’s Wicked Ale and restaurant chain Il Fornaio.

Levinthal is also a member of the Orabrush board.

Although Highland Capital Partners and General Catalyst Partners invest in the consumer space, venture firms typically shy away from consumer deals. But it was the absence of VCs in the sector which is what Whitman says lured him to launch the firm last year with $20 million to invest in growth stage deals. “There’s a giant gap in the marketplace and our skill sets are relevant, so we’re drowning in deal flow,” Whitman has previously told Thomson Reuters, publisher of VCJ.

In addition to operating the firm, Whitman also publishes a newsletter called 2X Trend Watch, a consumer industry trade publication that he distributes several times each year. The newsletter covers industry innovations and promising new products. A recent issue covered Inbru, a coffee flavor enhancer, and the snack food producer Granola Flats.

For Orabrush, retailers currently stocking it include the U.K.-based Boots pharmacy chain and the Canadian London Drugs chain. Harmon says company executives also recently attended two large trade shows and met with about 50 chain retailers, 45 of which expressed interest in follow-up discussions.

As for the company’s investors, Whitman says that while it’s unclear whether tongue-brushing will emerge as a widespread habit, once people see it as effective in combating bad breath, there’s a good chance it will catch on.

“It’s a somewhat different behavior, but there are lots of examples in oral care and non-oral care,” he says. “For example, years ago people didn’t floss, and that has grown into a very significant business.”

Week in Deals

In addition to Orabrush, a number of otehr early stage companies raised venture financing in the past several days. Here a summary of a select list:

CONSULTING

Careerminds Group

Hockessin, Del.

www.careerminds.com

Amount/Round: $800K/Series A

Investors: Innovation Ventures.

Details: Provides Web-based outplacement and career transition services.

CONSUMER INTERNET

Bloomspot

San Francisco

www.bloomspot.com

Amount/Round: $9M/Series A

Investors: Menlo Ventures (led), True Ventures and Harrison Metal.

Details: Provides flash sale services focused on luxury hotels, restaurants and spas. I March 2009, the company raised an initial seed round of funding from individual investors Jeff Weiner, Erik Blachford and Brad Garlinghouse.

EDUCATION

Koofers Inc.

Reston, Va.

www.koofers.com

Amount/Round: $5M/Series A

Investors: Revolution LLC, QED Investors, Altos Ventures and New Atlantic Ventures.

Details: Provides social learning for college students. Investor Revolution LLC was formed by AOL co-founder Steve Case. Koofers plans to use the capital to scale its presence by expanding product development and customer adoption.

HEALTH CARE

Reach Call Inc.

Augusta, Ga.

www.reachcall.com

Amount/Round: $5M/Series A

Investors: Council Ventures (led), Croft & Bender Capital, Georgia Health Sciences University.

Details: Develops remote evaluation software for physicians and hospitals.

INTERNET MARKETING

AdStruc

New York

www.adstruc.com

Amount/Round: $1.1M/NA

Investors: DFJ Gotham (led), RRE Ventures, Founder Collective and individual investors David Cohen, Jeff Clavier, Kal Vepuri, David Tisch and Howard Lindzon.

Details: Operates an online marketplace for outdoor advertising. CEO John Laramie developed the in Colorado, but relocated and incorporated in New York earlier this year.

MED TECH

Lantos Technologies Inc.

Cambridge, Mass.

www.lantostechnologies.com

Amount/Round: $1.6M/Series A

Investors: Catalyst Health Ventures (led), Excel Venture Management and Mass Medical Angels.

Details: Develops an intra-aural (ear) three-dimensional scanner that would have applications in audio equipment such as hearing aids, earphones and noise-canceling devices.

MOBILE APPS

Tochnidot Corp.

Tokyo

www.tochnidot.com

Amount/Round: $12M/Series B

Investors: KDDI Corp., Recruit Co. Ltd., Spire Inc., Jafco Co., DCM and Itochu Technology Ventures.

Details: Develops a mobile augmented reality platform. The Japanese startup Tonchidot makes the popular “Sekai Camera” application for iPhones and more recently came out with a mobile social gaming platform called “SoLaR.” The company previously raised a Series A round from DCM and ITOCHU Technology Ventures.

ROBOTICS

Harvest Automation Inc.

Billerica, Mass.

www.harvestautomation.com

Amount/Round: $1.3M/Series A

Investors: Founder Collective.

Details: Develops robotics technology for material handling. The funding brings the Series A round total to $5.3M, following a previous infusion from Life Sciences Partners, Cultivian Ventures (formerly Midpoint Food and Ag Fund) and the Massachusetts Technology Development Corp. Colin Angle, CEO of iRobot, and Mick Mountz, CEO of Kiva Systems, have joined Harvest Automation’s advisory board.

SOFTWARE

Expensify

San Francisco

www.expensify.com

Amount/Round: $5.75M/Series A

Investors: Redpoint Ventures (led), Hillsven Capital, Baseline Capital and individual investor Travis Kalanick.

Details: Develops expense reporting software targeting small businesses. Redpoint founding partner Tim Haley has joined the board.

Ixtens

New York

www.ixtens.com

Amount/Round: $4.6M/Series A

Investors: Greycroft Partners (co-led), BV Capital (co-led) and Marvin Traub Associates.

Details: Provides software-as-a-service for online retailers and media companies to help sell anywhere by syndicating their products out to multiple marketplaces.

Rypple

Toronto, Ontario

www.rypple.com

Amount/Round: $7M/Series A

Investors: Bridgescale Partners (led), Edgestone Capital Ventures, Extreme Venture Partners and individual investors Peter Thiel, Seymour Schulich, Roger Martin and Joe Sigelman.

Details: Develops human resources-related software-as-a-service. The company has now raised $13M in funding, following a large $6M seed round from angel investors in late 2008. Howard Gwin, a Bridgescale partner, will join Rypple’s board of directors.

WIRELESS COMMUNICATIONS

Orbotix

Ft. Collins, Colo.

www.orbotix.com

Amount/Round: NA/Series A

Investors: Foundry Group.

Details: The company, which is still in stealth mode, develops devices that connect consumer electronic devices to smartphones, has raised a round of venture capital funding from the Foundry Group. Ian Bernstein, CTO and co-founder of Orbotix, told Techrockies.com Foundry Managing Director Brad Feld represented the firm in the deal. As part of the funding, Paul Berberian has become CEO of the firm. Berberian was co-founder of Market Force Information, Raindance Communications and LINK-VTC.