If you pass Ameet Mehta on the street you probably wouldn’t notice him to be any different from a group of Millennials. Ask him what he’s up to, though, and you may be taken aback.
“I would not really tell anybody,” explained Mehta. “Before, I would just say ‘Hey, I’m starting a company in rural India.’ Now I would say ‘Hey, I’m starting a company, we sell feminine hygiene products in rural India to deal with menstruation.’ ”
Mehta is the co-founder of a Chicago-based start-up social enterprise that sells affordable, biodegradable sanitary pads to women and girls in rural India. He had just graduated and was going to work a well-paying job, but turned it down to start the company. Carrying the skepticism from family on his shoulders, the company enrolled into Impact Engine, a 12-week accelerator program for supporting for-profit businesses making the world a better place, and now has more confidence to counter the doubt.
“As long as you’re confident about it people generally say ‘That’s awesome, how can I help you?’ That’s usually the first reaction, from anybody and everybody, which is amazing.”
Mehta previously worked for a non-profit foundation supporting children’s education in India and noticed that even though children were handed scholarships, they were still dropping out. He discovered one of the problems to be menstruation. In rural India, many girls would be absent from school up to five days a month without an effective solution to deal with menstruation. They would eventually miss enough days of school that they would have to drop out. Up to $1 million had been raised to support children’s education but he realized that the money was barely making a difference.
Dhirendra Singh understood the problem at a much more intimate level having attended school in rural India. Together, they tried to figure out a solution and eventually led to the founding of Azadi Pads.
Mehta describes his work of delivering female hygiene products as a simple solution and one with far-reaching impact, as up to 300 million women in rural India remain at home several days each month because of menstruation. At the same time, there are many challenges. As a male it was difficult for him to go in the field and speak to women about a delicate topic. Menstruation is not something openly talked about either. Plus the fact that things move slower and many speak different dialects make it difficult to gather information for product design. But these conversations often turn out fruitful. They discovered that many women don’t wear underwear, so they would need something to hold up the pad to their body. The team went back to their product and included a string that would solve this problem.
Azadi Pads hopes to partner with non-profits to identify women entrepreneurs on the ground to sell the product. “A woman is more comfortable buying from a woman,” said Nisha Sutaria, Interim Manager. The product is estimated to cost 32 cents to purchase and designed to be biodegradable given that rural India does not have a developed garbage collection system.
The start-up is currently funded by Impact Engine who gives each participant in their program $20,000 seed capital. Many early-stage inclusive businesses still struggle with securing funds just to begin, so they take advantage of accelerator programs to help them launch and refine their business.
“There’s actually a humongous funding gap. But there’s actually a lot of money out there, especially for rural India. But the money is basically for a Series A where you’ve proven out your model and you need money to scale,” said Mehta.
Including Azadi Pads, eight teams will be pitching to a group of 200 to 300 investors on Investor Day December 5th as part of the culmination of the program.
“At this point we are a feminine hygiene product. Going forward we hope to become a platform for woman independence and empowerment.”
Social Enterprise Buzz is a media company dedicated to covering social enterprise news from around the world. We publish a range of stories from startups to entrepreneurship, innovation, and finance, which showcase business making the world a better place. Read more.