GALVESTON — Kevin Brodwick was working for a testing laboratory funded by the National Institutes of Health when he began approaching major chemical companies with research questioning the safety of their products.
Of greatest concern were baby bottles containing endocrine disrupters, including the now-infamous bisphenol-A (BPA), with connections to cancer, obesity, infertility and learning disorders.
Brodwick had expected interest, possibly even enthusiasm, when he shared information about how making a change in chemical formulas could yield safer products, especially since the changes would not affect profitability.
Instead, he was met with pushback, anger and even fear.
Someone, he thought, should put consumer safety before profit.
That’s when he decided to create his own ethically-minded manufacturing company, and Thinkbaby was born.
Over the past seven years, Brodwick has guided the Austin-based company — Thinkbaby and Thinksport — to create 150 items, available online and in 3,000 stores worldwide. His goal is to replace everyday products with safe alternatives. The company produces baby bottles, sippy cups, straw bottles, baby dishes and sun and body care products, along with insulated sports bottles and yoga mats.
“Producing and fighting for safe products is an important mission,” Brodwick said. “We can directly draw lines to the changes we’ve been a part of for the last seven years.”
Raised in Galveston as the son of professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch, his natural curiosity was cultivated by parents who encouraged thinking, discussion and exploration in science, art and music.
“Sitting around the dinner table at my house growing up, it was pretty clear that the complex problems that were being discussed were probably not making their way effectively into the world,” he said.
Brodwick studied economics at the University of Texas at Austin, but his upbringing kept him close to breakthroughs in science and health.
Q: What motivated you to do this?
A: You become pretty highly motivated when you start to see the data. Also, the companies that were making these harmful products didn’t seem to care. At that time my son was little and it’s hard not to be worried about what he’s ingesting.
Q: Has it been a simple process?
A: There is nothing simple about building a company. At the time, there were very few product companies in Austin; just about every company was high-tech. But, despite its complexity and intensity, it’s been a wonderful adventure. I honestly look forward every day to waking up and working on it. In the beginning, we had to spend a lot of time educating consumers on chemicals like BPA. It is a very complex problem and we worked to make the issue as understandable as possible. Still, we didn’t want to scare people.
Q: How has the business grown?
A: The first few years we focused on building our product set. The last few years have seen sizable growth. Our goal was to build a company very consciously. We look up to companies like Patagonia for their thoughtful leadership. We decided to focus on making safe products.
Q: How can consumers be certain the products they are using are safe?
A: They can’t. This will sound like conspiracy story stuff, but we’ve directly seen the power of the chemical industry. It’s just a fact of how things are done in the United States. Your interests do not come first. What’s needed is an easy method for consumers to determine the safety of the ingredients used in products they buy.
We all hope that the government is vetting products before they come to market. But the reality is that there are over 80,000 chemicals in use. None of them have been properly tested and in history, only five have been removed from commerce when they were proved to be dangerous. Even with compelling research, it is difficult to get a product removed. We’re all basically guinea pigs in a large chemical test.
Q: What has been your main support?
A: From a financial perspective, our investors are primarily folks within the medical world. They shared a similar ambition to make the world less toxic.
Q: What’s the future for Think?
A: We are focused on building an important company. We hope that our brand becomes synonymous with “safe.” Right now, it’s like having an adolescent — what will the young adult be? There are a lot of moving pieces when you’re running a company.
Q: What do you do when you aren’t working?
A: When you own a company, you’re always working. I do try to achieve balance between family, social and fitness. Getting out of balance in any one area is ultimately disruptive to the other areas of your life. Energy and time are my two most important resources. Keeping healthy is an important part of my work-life balance. I do train and race triathlons. I started racing in 1987 when I was at Ball High. The discipline required has absolutely translated into my business life. I’m never bored. Work and working out keep me busy, but I also carve out time for painting and playing music.
Q: Any advice for up-and-coming entrepreneurs?
A: You have to be willing to take risks. You have to accept that you’re going to fail. But the defining moment is really what happens when you hit those “fail” moments. I have solved a lot of problems on a long bike ride. And sometimes the inspiration to fix something comes at 3 a.m. You have to stay positive and confident that a solution lies somewhere. Sometimes the inspiration comes from your focus on the things that balance you.