For a wide range of causes, women in numerous components of Africa miss college after they’re having their interval. One issue is a straightforward lack of entry to menstrual merchandise. (Points like a stigma hooked up to menstruating and ache additionally contribute).
When Diana Sierra realized about that drawback ten years in the past on a visit to Uganda, she determined to do one thing about it. A Columbian industrial designer by occupation, she threw herself into creating an inexpensive, reusable product that, she hoped, might change the lives of the ladies and women utilizing it. In 2014, she co-founded Be Woman to promote her invention. However it wasn’t simple: The overall topic wasn’t one which many funders instantly discovered compelling.
Since then, the marketplace for different hygiene merchandise has turn out to be more and more aggressive, as extra firms have entered the fray. On the similar time, investor curiosity has picked up and, after a few years of outreach and analysis, Be Woman has discovered it simpler elevate funds from a number of traders. “For a very long time, affect funding was remarkable within the menstrual area,” says Sierra. “That’s modified significantly.”
The worldwide marketplace for female hygiene merchandise is projected to develop from $38.18 billion in 2021 to $54.52 billion in 2028, in response to Fortune Enterprise Insights.
A Journey to Uganda
It began in 2012, when Sierra determined get a masters in sustainable administration at Columbia College. Throughout that point, she satisfied an economist there to take her alongside to Uganda on a UN Growth Program venture. That’s when she turned conscious of simply how tough the easy matter of menstruation was for college women, who lacked entry to menstrual merchandise.
Then Sierra had her eureka second. Why not design an inexpensive, reusable pad? To that finish, she took the highest of an umbrella and mosquito web and created a barebones prototype. When she returned to the U.S., she saved tinkering, working pilots with a complete of about 500 younger ladies in Tanzania, Malawi, Rwanda and Uganda. By 2014, “It received to the purpose the place I used to be spending most of my wage on this,” she says. “And I noticed it couldn’t be a facet venture anymore.”
Weighing potential working fashions, Sierra determined a for-profit firm can be more practical than an NGO. “We have been attempting to resolve a market drawback,” she says. She and co-founder Pablo Freund named the Washington, D.C.-based firm Be Woman and likewise have been accepted into Halcyon Incubator’s first cohort.
A sequence of small pilots revealed essential data. Most necessary: Lots of the women didn’t even have underwear to which they might connect pads. So, in 2016, they developed a 2-in-1 answer: “interval panties” with a pocket to accommodate both a reusable or disposable absorbent. That was a game-changer, because it served two features and, subsequently, was extra inexpensive. (Plus, males within the family have been extra keen to purchase it, says Sierra).
Funding and Distribution
Alongside the way in which, Sierra discovered the method of attracting investor curiosity out there an uphill battle. Attracting consideration required an extended, affected person means of investor training and, extra necessary, constructing a physique of proof to show the product’s market potential —monitoring shopper suggestions throughout a number of pilots to grasp the affect on women’ lives, for instance. “It took numerous time and training and proof of affect by means of proof to herald new traders,” she says.
In 2014, she raised $300,000 from Futura Foundations, with one other elevate of $755,000 greater than two years later, half of that from Futura. However it was simply final yr that the corporate raised $500,000 from a broader array of affect traders, together with Akazi Capital and Future Females Make investments, amongst others. (Sierra additionally raised two Grand Challenges Canada grants for market growth).
Merchandise initially have been bought to NGOs, which now distribute them at no cost in over 35 international locations. Then in 2018, after conducting research in seven international locations in Sub-Saharan Africa, the corporate opened an workplace in Mozambique. There, Be Woman began distributing by means of retailer Intermoda, as nicely NGOs. Sierra then expanded to shops in 10 provinces. Final yr, the corporate entered the market in Kenya through distributor Kasha, which sells direct to customers, in addition to to retailers. Sierra plans to make use of her most up-to-date fundraise for increasing to extra brick and mortar shops this yr.
Now the product line contains underwear with built-in menstrual safety, together with a reusable pad, a menstrual cup with a sanitizing case and a software for monitoring interval cycles. Income for 2021 was over $1 million.