Thinking Small

Not all startups aim to save the world. Here’s a look at three consumer-product startups targeting the hyper-niche category.

Share this article!


Designed by Portland entrepreneurs Tara and Jason O’Mara, the LICKI Brush, which resembles a giant tongue, lets the cat lover “love your cat in your cat’s language.”Launch 01 Licki

Here’s how it works: Owners hold the brush in their mouths, then stroke the object of their affections with the artificial appendage. Voila: Get the feel of licking your cat without getting hair in your mouth.

LICKI Brush is more than a goofy grooming accessory, Tara O’Mara insists. It’s an important item in the cat owner’s tool kit, as it aids in closing the human-feline comprehension gap.

“Pets have long held a revered position in the family home, but pet behavior is sadly misunderstood,” she says.

Demand is high. The startup’s May 2016 Kickstarter raised $52,179, ten times the intended goal. Customers have placed more than 10,000 orders, and the product’s popularity has inspired the LICKI Brush team to design more products aimed at pet-owner bonding.

Bearded Oregon

If you have searched for beard inspiration on Instagram, you have probably heard of this hirsute focused startup. The company produces Launch 02 Bearded oregonbeard oil — scented to represent different Oregon cities — but got its start as an Instagram page.

Portland owner Aaron Naden says he hosted a Beard Battle in January 2016 but when the prize beard oil was delayed took production into his own hands, launching his own company the following month. The oil contains local beeswax and at least one other local product — e.g., tea leaves are infused into the Portland Beard Oil.

Bearded Oregon also sells beard balm, Oregon-inspired candles and other assorted accessories. Naden says he serves a small but competitive market.

“While there are many beard oil companies/startups, only the best survive. Bearded followers tend to truly take you seriously once you can produce more than just beard oils.”

Fireside Audiobox

Bend-based Tyrone Hazen’s one-of-a-kind audio design features propane-powered flames encased in glass and perched atop a wooden box. The flames dance to music streamed through an embedded Bluetooth speaker. Launch 03 Bearded oregon

Hazen says he was inspired to create the Fireside while living in New York, where he yearned for a fire pit.

“I think there is a lot of room for the integration of design and experience into the items we keep in our homes,” he says, adding that not everyone wants their tech items to look “techy.”

After a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $38,127, Hazen outsourced production to China to meet demand.