‘U’ Student Entrepreneurs Create The Toepener

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Some students at the University of Minnesota are getting a “hands on” experience by learning how to build a business from scratch. But their actual product will help keep your hands off something you might not want to touch.

You can teach history and science in the classroom, but how do you teach an entrepreneur?

John Stavig does it by sending his students into the real world.

“The assignment is to solve a problem and build a business that will provide good learning for the students in the class,” said Stavig, the director of the Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the Carlson School of Management.

Students break into teams and create new products. In the past, they’ve sold iPod covers, organic shampoos and Gopher chopper gloves. This year it’s something called the Toepener.

“It’s interesting how there are so many problems out there that have such simple solutions,” said University of Minnesota senior Maxwell Arndt, CEO of Toepener.

The students found their problem in public restrooms, where after washing their hands, a lot of people worry about touching a door handle that could be covered with other folks’ germs.

So, they came up with Toepener, which is basically a door handle for the foot. But when the students went to sell it, they got odd looks.

Still, the Bulldog in Northeast Minneapolis bought in along with some other Twin Cities restaurants.

“What are these goofy door openers,” said Bulldog General Manger Amy Baskerville. “I don’t know, it sounds cool, let’s give it a try.”

And they’ve been surprisingly well received by employees who need to wash their hands frequently and by customers, as well.

“I’m kind of a germ freak too, so I think it works good,” said Jason DeJoy of Prior Lake.

The Toepener sells for $49.95.

More from John Lauritsen
Comments

One Comment

  1. Amy Foley says:

    Weren’t we just talking about this problem? Why didn’t I think of this?

  2. MG says:

    That is a great idea!

  3. Bob Loblaw says:

    I’ve had something like this at my offices for years. There’s dozens of companies that make things like this: http://www.stepnpull.com/c3223.html

    1. John says:

      Ive tried the stepnpull before and it doesnt work NEARLY as well as the Toepener (which I have also tried) and I’ve heard from maintenance staff that the Toepener is easier to clean off and safer (less sharp).

  4. Eartha says:

    I simply use a paper towel to open the door, but I do love this idea and hope it catches on.

  5. Sarah says:

    I’ve also used that one and John is right, it doesn’t work that great. The Toepener works surprisingly well, and seems a lot more durable and yes, easier to clean. I don’t really think there are dozens of competitors? Apparently no one has done it right yet, as this is definitely not widespread. Looks like the Toepener people are onto something…

  6. Mike says:

    The Toepener looks like it would work pretty well, nice design. The idea, however, was inspired, at least in part, by StepNpull. We were contacted several months ago by one of the students who told us he was working on a college project. He wanted to know if he could interview us about StepNpull and that the information would be used in a report or class project. I visited with him for 20 or 30 minutes and gave him some general information in good faith. He also bought a StepNpull from us. I have no idea what his intent was at that time but after reading the article and viewing the video I am surprised to say the least.

    The Toeopener may be a big success, we shall see.

    1. Max says:

      Hi Mike – The Toepener was independently developed, and in doing our diligence we did come across your product as well as a few others like it. It was (and still is) a college project intended to solve a problem in the world. We developed a product to meet a need that wasn’t being addressed. As you can see, the Toepener looks significantly different than your product and all other competitors. I hope that the press that we’ve received will only stand to benefit the idea of completing the hands-free restroom experience, whether for you, us, or anyone else.

      Thanks,
      Max

  7. Max says:

    Hi Betty – As I just shared with Mike, the Toepener was independently developed, and in doing our diligence we did come across your product as well as a few others like it. It was (and still is) a college project intended to solve a problem in the world. We developed a product to meet a need that wasn’t being addressed. As you can see, the Toepener looks significantly different than your product and any other competitors. I hope that the press that we’ve received will only stand to benefit the idea of completing the hands-free restroom experience, whether for you, us, or anyone else.

    Thanks,
    Max

  8. Roger says:

    Jeez Ron, lay off these kids – looks like you guys have had your patent rejected a handful of times, so it wouldn’t even matter if their product didn’t look completely different than yours (although it does look significantly different to me). In fact, it looks like you guys got another final rejection from the USPTO last week under patent number 12/313933 (public information on http://portal.uspto.gov/external/portal/pair), which means anyone can sell yours too.

  9. Bob LaBla says:

    I do also want to pass a note: I have worked with the CEO of this company in the past on a project. It brokedown to a very similar situation with a different idea. I do wish them the best of luck, hopefully their product. On the lighter side it would be interesting to see what the classic push from the other side would look like if someone had their foot in toepener. Now I think that would be a situation.

  10. Tim says:

    Betty — Have you heard of a shift key? It capitalizes letters and doesn’t make you sound dumb. Give it a shot sometime.

  11. Sam K says:

    The Toepener is launching a new contest starting today through April 30! Nominate any business that you think needs a Toepener– the business with the most nominations at the end of the month will receive two free Toepeners!

  12. Mabelene Virden says:

    You stole the information from StepNpull in Missouri. I will never buy your product.

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