Defunkify CEO Richard Geiger Talks Sweet Smelling Clothes, The Accelerator, & Growth

Dune Sciences, the parent company of Eugene-based laundry detergent Defunkify, was in the Eugene Regional Accelerator’s first cohort in 2014.

Today, Defunkify – an enzyme-based detergent that gets the odor out of activewear – can be found in stores nationwide such as Sprouts, Safeway and Albertson’s as well as online at Samsclub.com and Costco.com.

Though the company has made some adjustments to its product since the cohort, Chief Executive Richard Geiger said the accelerator helped his team with the blocking and tackling of getting a new product on the market.

“The blocking and tackling of ‘How do you write a business plan? How do you set up your board? How do you write a pitch? How do you pitch?’ … That’s what I thought RAIN did really well,” Geiger said.

He said the accelerator taught him best practices and how to actually go about these tasks.

“Many other organizations don’t really do that,” he said.

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Geiger had a background in startups before becoming involved with Defunkify. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he worked with a company that made composite wheelchairs.

“We built that up and sold it in ‘93 to Everest and Jennings,” he said.

In 2005, while working on a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Pennsylvania State University, Geiger joined another startup. Called KCF Technologies, the company was then designing cable sensors to facilitate underwater navigation. The company has also developed sensors for machine health monitoring, as well as energy harvesters for prosthetics.

Geiger moved to Eugene in 2012 after his wife was recruited to teach at the University of Oregon. He sold his piece of KCF Technologies and started to think about what he wanted to do next. He soon met UO chemistry professor Jim Hutchison and nanomaterials researcher John Miller, who had cofounded Dune Sciences.

Hutchison and Miller had created a nanosilver fabric treatment to make textiles antimicrobial and anti-odor, preventing the spread of disease. Geiger approached them about commercializing the fabric treatment and marketing it for use in the medical industry. In 2014, Dune Sciences won the Willamette Angel Conference, an annual investors conference for early stage, growth-oriented businesses, and received $380,000 in investment funding. At about the same time, Dune Sciences participated in the accelerator.

After graduating from the cohort, the company sought the approval from the Environmental Protection Agency needed to bring its product to market, but due to a delay from the agency decided to pivot to a slightly different product, Geiger said.

The company first marketed DeFUNKit Permanent Odor Control Kit, a multistep do-it-at-home wash that prevented odors from returning to garments for several months. The kit included a prewash detergent that removed the build up from clothing that causes persistent odor and then an anti-odor coating to prevent the stink from returning. However, the feedback the company received from consumers was that they just wanted a deep-cleaning laundry detergent.

“It works amazingly well but it requires consumers to change their behavior,” Geiger said. “We went from that to the detergent, changed the name and launched Defunkify from that.”

Defunkify Active Wash uses plant-based ingredients, minerals, enzymes and sustainable synthetics that are listed on the EPA’s Safer Choice Ingredient List. Defunkify also sells an Active Spray shoe and gear deodorizer and a laundry stain remover.

Geiger said Defunkify is in a growth stage.

“We’re increasing store count, we’re increasing sell-through, we’re increasing product SKUs, and we’re raising money to support all of that,” he said.

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There are many organizations that provide emotional support to entrepreneurs but those groups don’t necessarily provide the instruction the Eugene Regional Accelerator provides, Geiger said. He said the practice pitch to investors at the end of the program was especially helpful, and that Joe Maruschak, who was the Executive Director of the accelerator at the time Geiger was in the cohort, shared sample presentation decks to help the companies prepare.

“(Joe) shared a lot of stuff that was very helpful,” Geiger said. “I had done three other startups and had some experience but I still learned quite a bit through the program,” he said.