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Seasoned alumnus, venture capitalist backs FSU grads’ startup

Oct 02, 2017

As students at Florida’s West Boca Raton High School, Nick Telford and Michael Bracciale enjoyed tossing around ideas for new businesses. When they were students and roommates at Florida State University, they finally hit on an idea that – with the help of 1981 accounting and finance alumnus Stuart Lasher – is taking flight.

The 2017 College of Business Hall of Fame inductee and venture capitalist recently made a substantial investment in Telford and Bracciale’s startup, Fly Mouthwash, and is lending business expertise he amassed over the years as founder, chairman and CEO of Quantum Capital Partners Inc.

“My philosophy when I invest in anything is that I want to work with good people who are open minded and coachable,” said Lasher, a member of the FSU Foundation Board and a generous supporter of the College of Business. “Nick and Mike are sharp, energetic, passionate and persistent. I tested them, gave them task lists to see how well they did at execution skills, and they were diligent, always making progress. I wanted to see them succeed.”

Telford and Bracciale first connected as students with Lasher through Lasher’s stepson, LJ Pennachio, an entrepreneurship and real estate major at the College of Business, and the pair diligently pursued Lasher, finally scoring a first meeting with him about a year ago.

The initial installment of Lasher’s investment is allowing Fly Mouthwash co-founders Telford and Bracciale, who originated the idea for the highly concentrated minty mouthwash, to manufacture an initial order of 7,000, 2-ounce portable bottles at a site in Ohio, build a website, run clinical trials and conduct marketing for a soft launch this month.

“We’re incredibly grateful Stuart believed in us enough to help fund our vision,” said Telford, who graduated in May with a degree and finance and professional sales. “It took a while for us to convince him to invest in our project, and every time we met with him over four months, he’d have a full list of tasks we needed to complete before the next meeting.

“The hard work was worth it because I learned more about business strategy, detailed planning and, even, myself over that time than I ever could have otherwise. It came to a point where we weren’t even chasing the money anymore. It became more about the partnership we wanted with Stuart. Working with him has been priceless because he knows how to start successful businesses from the ground up.”

Fly Mouthwash’s solution was formulated by oral-care chemist Martin Giniger. The enterprise operates out of Domi Station, a Tallahassee community business incubator, with Telford and Bracciale, an exercise physiology graduate, taking lead roles and 1984 FSU psychology graduate Tracey Priest, owner of Strategic Marketing Partners, serving as chief marketing officer. Telford and Bracciale participated in Domi’s six-month Get Started Program, which allows startups to learn about customer discovery, market validation and business model development.

The company recently received $1,000 from the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce during an entrepreneurial forum. Three startups made five-minute pitches in front of professionals from the community, and the audience decided by vote that Fly Mouthwash was ahead of the others in product development.

“The entire fall semester of 2016 was dedicated to testing the product around campus,” Telford said. “Mike would meet with Dr. Giniger in South Florida to formulate the product every two weeks, ship the samples to me, and I would collect as much feedback on the product as possible. This two-week loop lasted around eight months, and 50 trials later, in March 2017, the final formula was agreed upon.”

Their current marketing strategy is to use the connections they’ve developed in the Florida State community to develop a brand ambassador program. With an all-FSU team, Telford and Bracciale are confident they can spread the word to students through an ambassador force they’re currently hiring.

“The opinions of FSU students are vital in improving our always adapting company,” Telford said. “You’ll be able to find the brand ambassadors all over campus weekly, and the Fly Mouthwash team will be set up at Market Wednesdays in the student union every week.”

Telford said Fly Mouthwash will begin selling product online in January, fulfilling orders through Amazon and its own website. Lasher’s investment will also be used to run targeted video campaigns to increase awareness around the country and drive sales on a national level.

Said Lasher: “That Nick and Mike, who come from different disciplines – finance and professional sales and the medical side of things – to team up and put this business into play is very rewarding to me.” 

By Barbara Ash





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