N.O. startup makes toothpaste

By: Skip Descant

Maybe it’s only natural that a toothpaste developed in New Orleans should have a flourish of decadence.

Because inside those artfully designed mocha-colored tubes with the gold top is a toothpaste whose magic ingredient is derived from chocolate. Theodent, a new toothpaste line developed in the BioInnovation Center in New Orleans, includes an extract of chocolate and other minerals that stimulate enamel growth and strengthen teeth, the company’s founders say. The minty-flavored toothpaste does not include fluoride. And it does not resemble or taste like chocolate, said Arman Sadeghpour, Theodent’s CEO.

The toothpaste contains Rennou, a proprietary ingredient developed by Dr. Tetsuo Nakamoto, in research that began some 30 years ago at Tulane University

The toothpaste contains Rennou, a proprietary ingredient developed by Dr. Tetsuo Nakamoto, in research that began some 30 years ago at Tulane University.

Theodent, which has a suggested retail price of about $10, began distribution to Whole Foods Markets in 20 states and Canada during the first week of January. It’s been well-received, said Sadeghpour, particularly in its hometown.

“The response has been overwhelming, particularly in our local stores — the Veterans (Memorial Boulevard) and the Magazine (Street) locations of Whole Foods,” Sadeghpour said. “And now, we’ve received word that the Baton Rouge location has received significant stock. We’re expecting the sales there to kind of mirror the support we’re seeing here.”

The new gourmet line of toothpaste has origins in New Orleans — the Rennou chocolate extract additive is made there. However, the tube is made in New Jersey. The goldlabeled boxes are made in Washington, and the toothpaste is manufactured and packaged in an FDA-approved facility in Idaho, Sadeghpour explained.

“So then it’s all shipped to the BioInnovation Center, ultimately, where we have control over the distribution,” Sadeghpour said. In time, Theodent may bring manufacturing to New Orleans, he added.

Theodent includes about 10 to 15 partners and consultants — among them four co-founders and 11 investor-partners. Its offices are in the BioInnovation Center, a $47 million, 66,000-square-foot biotech business incubator funded by the Louisiana Department of Economic Development. The center opened in July and already has 19 tenants, officials say. It is designed to house 40 to 50 businesses or about 200 workers in the center’s assortment of office and co-working spaces and wetlab areas.

Most of the companies in the BioInnovation Center are biotechnology-related, such as Bioceptive, a medical device startup. The BioInnovation Center differs from other incubators, like the Louisiana Technology Park in Baton Rouge, by being more focused on medical startups.

“The Tech Park’s focus tends to be mostly IT and digital media, and BioInnovation Center — like the Louisiana Emerging Technology Center — specializes in products in the biological sciences and biotechnology,” said Jesse Hoggard, director of communications at the Louisiana Technology Park. The Louisiana Emerging Technology Center is a business incubator with wet-lab space on the LSU campus.

Theodent, like a growing number of technology startups in the state, is taking advantage of the Angel Investor Tax Credit program, administered through LED, which allows investors in startups like Theodent to earn up to a 35 percent tax credit on their investment in the company.

“We are obviously, super-excited about that incentive and it’s been a really big help for us,” Sadeghpour said.

He acknowledged, however, the tax credit program for his investors was far from the only draw keeping Theo - dent in Louisiana.

“It was the whipped cream and cherry with sprinkles on the top,” Sadeghpour quipped. “But realistically, the cofounders of the company are all native New Orleanians. We all were here during (Hurricane) Katrina. We all suffered damage to our homes in one way or another. We all rebuilt, and we’re all committed to staying here postKatrina to rebuild this exciting biotech economy here,” Sadeghpour said. “So it wasn’t the determining factor.”

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