Mihaylo College finance alumnus Aristote Matshoko ’12 is the founder of BONNI, an ecologically and socially responsible bamboo toothbrush concept that gives one toothbrush to the poor or homeless in Europe or Africa for every brush purchased by consumers. Within the past month, he has diversified, with wood products to cover iPhones and laptops. With the motto “One Purchase, One Donation, One World,” Matshoko’s entrepreneurship is part of the trend of social enterprises, which combine the for-profit motivation with a desire to make a difference.
When Aristote Matshoko ’12, who is of Congolese descent, came to the U.S. from his hometown of Lausanne, Switzerland, to earn his undergraduate degree in finance, the Great Recession was in full swing. As a student at Mihaylo College, “studying finance was really interesting,” he says. “Everything I learned, I applied to my personal finance and investments.” He also caught the entrepreneurial spirit, inspired by a talk by Business Madness Week speaker Mark Manguera ’02 (management and entrepreneurship), co-founder of Kogi BBQ.
“After getting my bachelor’s, I returned to Europe, taking with me several elements of American culture, such as the importance of giving back to the community,” says Matshoko.
Doing Good – One Toothbrush At a Time
In Switzerland, young people must either be conscripted into the military for nine months or serve in a civilian capacity for 13 months.
Keeping in mind the business education he received at Mihaylo College, Matshoko chose civilian service, which included working for the Point d’Eau Lausanne (PEL) Foundation, a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in his hometown of Lausanne.
“I coordinated hygiene services that the PEL Foundation offers, such as showers, laundry, haircuts and office tasks, for the homeless, working poor, students and retirees with limited resources,” he says. “Many homeless people requested that we provide toothbrushes.”
“One day, a homeless man asked me for a toothbrush, and I was happy to give him one since we had some. Several days later, the same man asked me for another toothbrush and I asked him, ‘what did you do with the toothbrush I gave you a couple of days ago?’ and he responded, ‘I don’t know, I lost it in the nature where I sleep.’ Knowing the negative impact that plastic has on our planet and the demand for toothbrushes at the NGO, I decided to tackle this issue, and that is why I started selling bamboo toothbrushes.”
Matshoko’s concept got off the ground thanks to his graduate program in business entrepreneurship at the School of Management Fribourg, which requires students to establish a business venture, either individually or with classmates. Matshoko initially developed his concept with a fellow student, but when his classmate dropped out, he launched BONNI as a sole proprietorship.
“Each student received 1,000 Swiss Francs, or about $1,000,” he says. “The goal was to combine theory and practice by creating a startup. To help us find a business idea, the professors recommended that we tackle a problem we had encountered.”
Recognizing the need for environmentally sustainable toothbrushes to benefit the underprivileged, Matshoko launched BONNI, which means “what’s up?” in Langala, the national language of his native Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Making a Difference While Making a Profit
“BONNI is not an NGO but a business, which aims to do the right thing for less fortunate people and our planet,” he says.
Over the past 18 months, the business has donated close to 1,000 toothbrushes, but Matshoko hopes this is just the beginning of a rapidly diversifying business concept.
“In this past month, I have released a new collection of wood products, such as covers and cases for MacBooks and iPhones,” he says. “All of these products are made in America. I collaborate with an American carpenter who handcrafts and ships out my products from the U.S. For each MacBook cover or case purchased, we will donate four toothbrushes to an NGO of your choice, and for each iPhone case bought, we will donate two toothbrushes to an NGO of your choice as well.”
Currently, most of Matshoko’s customers are from Switzerland and France. But he hopes to soon sell on every continent. He is also reaching out specifically to the Cal State Fullerton community, offering a 10% discount to students, which is available by entering “CSUF10” when shopping on the BONNI website.
How to Get Started in Your Business
Matshoko has advice for students or alumni interested in launching their own business concepts: “Take as many business courses as you can, attend business workshops, learn by doing through internships and travel. Being exposed to the world allows you to see opportunities. Some of the most successful businesses were created after the founders travelled overseas, such as Starbucks. Nowadays, with the internet, we do not have to live physically in one particular location; we can make or start businesses or invest literally anywhere.”
For More Information
With a commitment to social responsibility and innovative business concepts, Matshoko’s BONNI is an example of the entrepreneurial vision and global focus fostered at Mihaylo College, which welcomes international students from six continents. For more on BONNI, visit them online or on their Facebook or Instagram.