MBA alum makes non-stick gum a reality

While most entrepreneurs struggle to find a new idea that sticks, the company that MBA alum Amy Carpenter co-founded took off because she helped invent something that didn’t.

After 20 years as a dental hygienist, Carpenter now has a new title she never expected: CEO of OrthoGum, a company that has created gum that doesn’t stick to clear orthodontic aligners, the molded plastic alternatives to standard metal braces.

For the past few years, Carpenter has been working alongside William Paini, DDS, a dentist in Denver, as his business consultant and hygienist. The two grew close and began bouncing ideas off each other for new products and ways to solve problems. However, it wasn’t until Carpenter began her coursework as an MBA student at CSU’s College of Business that she felt equipped to move forward with any of them.

When Paini pitched the concept for OrthoGum to her, instead of saying, “It would be cool if someone did this,” Carpenter had the confidence to say, “We should start this.”

Graduating With A Plan

When she began her MBA, Carpenter was looking to build her skills as a dental business consultant. What she didn’t expect is that the degree would also set her up to become the co-founder of her own business. But she found the coursework a natural fit for both aspirations.

“They give you a lot of freedom on your assignments to be able to incorporate whatever business you’re in,” said Carpenter. “A lot of my assignments were to help the business, so that was really awesome.”

With the help of her classmates, Carpenter was able to work on the business plan for OrthoGum for their capstone project, resulting in a 60-page roadmap for the company. The vetted plan outlined the next steps for her and Paini to launch OrthoGum, detailing how they could create their product, establish a supply chain, develop financial projections, iron out their operations and more.

By starting the business, Carpenter and Paini set out to address some of the common challenges faced by people with clear aligners. Many people have difficulty wearing the aligner trays for the required 22 hours a day, then get behind schedule with their treatment, which can lead to increased costs. Many of them also just miss chewing a piece of gum now and then.

Carpenter and Paini went through about 50 different trials of gum formulations before they were able to find one that wouldn’t stick.

“I have so much gum it would crack you up,” said Carpenter. “I have a pallet sitting in my front room.”

However, the results were well worth the effort.

“You can smash it in your hair and pull it out,” said Carpenter, laughing.

The Launch

The company debuted its therapeutic chewing gum Active™ in early 2020, just a few short months after Carpenter graduated from the MBA program.

“It keeps your aligners cleaner, [reduces the risk of cavities], and there’s a lot of research out there that says if you can chew gum while your teeth are moving, that they move faster and more effectively,” said Carpenter, something that could save both dentists and patients time and money.

Their company is currently working with a university in New Zealand that’s conducting a study to evaluate how the gum can affect the length of treatment.

“It’s also the first time anybody is seeing anything like this. There isn’t anything like this on the market,” said Carpenter. “It was really well received and then COVID happened.”

Not only did the pandemic force the fledgling company to readjust its marketing plans from in-person connections at dental conventions to digital-only, but it also paused operations for nearly three months at the dental clinic where Carpenter and Paini both work.

The time away from the office gave them the opportunity to refine OrthoGum, get their website live and begin taking orders.

A Flexible Skill Set

As a business consultant for her clinic tasked with helping adapt to the uncertainty of their “new normal”, having her MBA has given Carpenter crucial insights into what they can do to most effectively meet the moment.

“[Dentists] are not taught any business, but they run a small business,” said Carpenter. “They are HR, they are the accountant, they are the finance manager, they are the marketer, they run the business, but they’re also supposed to produce the money.

“Going through the MBA program helped me really start to critically think about the numbers … instead of, ‘Oh, let’s just treat patients and the money will come.’ It doesn’t really happen that way.”

Carpenter also earned a certificate in marketing through the MBA program, which has been a key resource in moving OrthoGum and her consulting practice forward.

Now that she’s back in the office, Carpenter is able to continue brainstorming new ways to solve problems, and who knows where the next great idea will take her.