Encouraging children to brush their teeth properly is a problem many parents face. But graduates from UCL’s Technology Entrepreneurship MSc have created a solution that blends technology and gaming.
Playbrush makes toothbrushing fun and thorough. The Bluetooth attachments and sonic brushes for children and adults have been sold in 25 countries.
Motivating children to brush their teeth is a struggle experienced by parents around the world every morning and evening.
Paul Varga, a UCL graduate of the MSc in Technology Entrepreneurship, felt there must be a simple solution to the problem. Developing ideas with fellow graduate Tolulope Ogunsina and Matthäus Ittner, Paul came up with the concept of Playbrush.
Playbrush is an interactive smart toothbrush. The first iteration of Playbrush was a manual toothbrush attachment, Playbrush Smart, which connects to games on a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. The team later added a sonic toothbrush to their product line, Playbrush Smart Sonic, which has extra-soft bristles and operates at the optimal 17,000 brush head movements per minute.
The Playbrush app has interactive games to play, where children can save the Tooth Fairy, fly aircraft or win dance battles. An algorithm measures each toothbrushing session, ensuring teeth are cleaned thoroughly for the right amount of time. The app provides real-time feedback with statistics and a reward system to give children extra motivation.
Playbrush is supported by a number of leading dentists, including Dr Paul Ashley, Head of Paediatric Dentistry at the Eastman Dental Hospital in London. He commented: “It’s important that children learn the right brushing technique early. Playbrush is a great way to encourage teeth to be cleaned regularly, at the right speed and area of the mouth. The idea is very clever.”
Recently, Playbrush has launched a smart toothbrush for adults. With 40,000 sonic brush head movements per minute, it provides data and feedback on brushing so users can improve their technique.
Making an idea a business
In 2014, Paul won a UCL Bright Ideas Award (now the ‘Build your own business 3: Launch your business) for investment in the new company. He also received business advice from UCL Innovation & Enterprise, as well as free office space at BaseKX, UCL’s entrepreneurship hub. The wide network of staff and students at UCL was also an abundant source of families to help with product development.
After creating a prototype and testing it on hundreds of children, Playbrush went from strength to strength, winning additional funding. The business associates also appeared on the BBC television programme Dragons’ Den. But they walked away from the Dragons’ offers as they didn’t want to part with more than 1% equity.
Playbrush went on to gain investment for the right amount of equity from Austrian financiers Speedinvest, business angel Hansi Hansmann, former racing-car driver Harold Primat and UNIQA Ventures, the VC arm of UNIQA insurance group.
Revolutionising toothbrushing around the world
Playbrush has now raised multiple millions in further funding and has sold over 300,000 Playbrush units in 25 countries. The company has also developed a fast-growing subscription model.
The business now offers 13 games on its children’s app, four of which are free, and an innovative app for adults. The team has also won awards including the Health Media Award 2016 and the Gamification World Award 2015 for ‘Best Technological Innovation’.
Co-founder and CTO, Tolulope Ogunsina said: “At the core of the business, we’re solving a health problem. We’re fighting tooth decay and helping people to have confident smiles. The end goal is to have Playbrush in every bathroom in the world and we’re very grateful UCL Innovation & Enterprise has been really helpful in bringing us closer to our goal.”