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The Toepener was developed by a group of students at the University of Minnesota, including Abby Huebsch of Perham. The product helps people avoid spreading germs by touching bathroom door handles.

Perham grad helps develop device to open bathroom doors without touching doorknobs

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education Perham, 56573
Perham Minnesota 222 2nd Avenue SE 56573

It's been estimated that one-third of people don't wash their hands after using the bathroom. Gross, right?

The good news is thanks to a Perham graduate and a team of innovative students, the germs left behind won't spread as easily.

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Abby Huebsch, a 2009 Perham High School graduate and student at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, is among a team of 12 students that helped develop the Toepener, an invention designed to help people avoid touching bathroom doorknobs.

The class is a select group of students that are given real money to develop and sell a real product.

Huebsch, a sophomore, applied for acceptance into the class last spring and began this fall. The class consists of 24 students and lasts all school year.

Students that were accepted met before the class began to get to know each other.

"It was important to my professor that we knew each other in a social sense before the class started," Huebsch said. "People who are friends with their business partners are more likely to succeed."

In the first four weeks of the class, students develop ideas for products. Her professor asked the students to come with their passions, problems they had discovered and ideas on how to fix them.

Students presented ideas every week and narrowed it down to three in mid-November.

Everyone jumped on a team and the Toepener was born.

Huebsch's company, Forge LLC, was given $15,000 to develop, manufacture and sell the product.

Huebsch said the idea for the device started out as "almost more of a joke than anything." Its purpose is to help reduce the spread of germs in restrooms. The Toepener is an aluminum attachment that is placed at the bottom of a bathroom door so one can use their foot to open it instead of using the handle.

The group created about 20 different prototypes of the Toepener, experimenting with different types of metals. It chose a design that works with most type of shoes.

"It doesn't get the foot caught or set you off balance," Huebsch said.

Now the group is working to get Toepeners into buildings. It has sold 40 so far. A challenging part of the process is manufacturing, Huebsch said. She met with KitMasters in Perham over winter break to discuss the possibility of manufacturing the product in Perham.

"I don't know how realistic it is right now," she said. "We're not sure if we want to go from aluminum to steel, but think KitMasters would be a nice company to work for."

Design and manufacture of the product have shown to be most difficult so far in the process, Huebsch said.

Word is getting out about the team's invention. Various newspapers, TV and radio stations have covered the invention. A piece done about the Toepener on WCCO went viral and was broadcast in India, Japan, Poland, France and Spain.

"We're getting a lot of press and it's really exciting," she said. "And we've seen sales from that."

While starting up any new business may not be easy, Huebsch said the experience has been "amazingly rewarding."

"It's been an awesome class," she said. "To have an opportunity in my college career to be able to delve into the creation of a business and looking at a patent, trademarking, licensing, manufacturing, sales... It's really just been a phenomenal experience and so much more than any other class I've taken just because it's so hands on."

Huebsch plans to attend law school after graduating from the U of M. She is the daughter of Sue and Doug Huebsch of Perham.

To see the product, go to www.toepener.com or www.facebook.com/toepener.

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