Startup Mantra: Time to go green, sustainable. Period!

Published on Oct 01, 2022 04:02 PM IST

Focussing on the 40-crore menstruating women population of our country, ‘Care Form Labs’ is on a mission to make menstruation green and menstrual products inclusive

(L to R) Prof Nachiket Thakur, cofounder and director; Shreya Yengul, former design lead and Pramod Priya Ranjan, cofounder and director of Care Form Labs. (HT PHOTO)
(L to R) Prof Nachiket Thakur, cofounder and director; Shreya Yengul, former design lead and Pramod Priya Ranjan, cofounder and director of Care Form Labs. (HT PHOTO)
BySALIL URUNKAR

Focussing on the 40-crore menstruating women population of our country, ‘Care Form Labs’ is on a mission to make menstruation green and menstrual products inclusive. The startup, incubated in Pune and Delhi and incorporated in Ranchi (Jharkhand) by its founder Pramod Priya Ranjan, has launched its green menstrual health brand ‘Onpery’ that has a portfolio of IP-driven redesigned green (sustainable) menstrual products like menstrual cups, reusable sanitary pads, liner, period underwear and menstrual disc, to improve the user experience of useability and comfort, with user-friendly policies to enable maximum menstruators easily adopt green menstrual products, and initiatives to reduce the period poverty by having the products inclusive.

In the beginning…

Ranjan is a system and industrial designer who did his bachelor’s in industrial design from MIT Institute of Design, Pune (2015-19) and his master’s in system design from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IITD) (2020-22). Along with Pramod, Prof Nachiket Thakur, an academician, and industrial designer co-founded Care Form Labs Pvt. Ltd., who did his master’s in industrial design from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai (IDC, IITB) and has a rich experience in innovation, strategy, and social ventures.

Says Ranjan, “I was involved in social projects in college days as I was inclined in solving problems instead of just focussing on aesthetics and designing. I was engaged and active in communities and their activities for design professionals. I met my co-founder Prof Thakur during one such event. He also got us a live project of redesigning a sanitary napkin incinerator. That’s when I was first introduced to menstrual products. After doing basic research, I was surprised to know that despite being menstrual cup most sustainable, eco-friendly, and economical, menstrual cups were not popular due to some myths and taboos along with useability issues as it was an insertion-based product.”

“We got incubated at ‘AIC-MIT ADT Incubator Forum, Pune (hosted by MIT ADT University and supported by AIM (Atal Innovation Mission) and NITI Aayog)’ in July 2019 for two years for redesigning menstrual cup. We took two interns Shreya Yengul and Alomi Parikh with Prof Thakur as my cofounder and Prof.Dhimant Panchal as my mentor. We did an online survey of 350 menstruating women and identified certain problems related to menstrual cups. Based on this feedback, the ideation and design conceptualisation was finalised in October 2019 and the first provisional patent was filed in November 2019. Our first prototype was ready in December 2019 and we gave that product to a few users. It helped us to further product detailing,” Ranjan added.

Mapping competitors

Ranjan and his team applied for the Biotechnology Ignition Grant (BIG) Scheme of Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) set up by the Department of Biotechnology in January 2020 through Venture Centre, NCL, Pune. Meanwhile, in March 2020 the third prototype of the menstrual cup got ready and was given to some users for feedback. The product was validated, but Ranjan realised that they can’t make a brand out of a single product and that product cannot be displayed as an ultimate product.

Ranjan said, “Menstruation is unavoidable. We are not primarily offering a product but a lifestyle of green menstruation and different people have different preferences at any given point in time. The question was how to make ‘menstruation as a whole lifestyle’ sustainable. We understood that other reusable menstrual products were also not popular due to certain useability issues. So, we decided to redesign and launch an entire range of sustainable and reusable external menstrual products. For this purpose, we have been incubated at the ‘Foundation for Innovation and Technology Transfer (FITT), Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IITD)’ from January 2022 for two years.”

Lockdown time utilisation

Incorporated in January 2020, Onpery is the first brand globally to have IP-protected technologies on the entire range of reusable menstrual products. During the first lockdown in 2020, Pramod conducted a survey of menstrual cup users. It was revealed in that survey that 56 per cent of urban participants were willing to use menstrual cups but out of them only 9-13 per cent were adopting it. Of those adopting, only 70 per cent continued using menstrual cups. In rural areas too, 10 per cent of girls were aware of menstrual cups and other products through the information available on the internet.

Ranjan said, “Alpha testing of 30 users, especially on the material hardness aspect, helped us to make certain changes before filing the complete patent in November 2020. We took six months to find out the market fit for the product. Meanwhile, in August 2020 the BIRAC grant of 48 lakh was approved in form of a zero-interest loan but the first tranche was received only in July 2021. We applied and received funds from UNDP Accelerator Labs and Youth Co: Lab in November and December 2020. These funds were used to manufacture moulds and sample testing.”

Soft launch

Onpery menstrual cup was soft-launched in one size for initial public feedback on March 8, 2021, and finally launched in three sizes on March 8, 2022. The team at Onpery also successfully redesigned and filed patents on reusable sanitary pads, reusable liners, reusable period underwear and menstrual discs. In March 2022, they launched a regular variant of period underwear and in May 2022, Onpery further launched a detachable and size adjustable period underwear and biodegradable pads. This range of external reusable menstrual products was redesigned by Ranjan, Prof. Sabyasachi Paldas, Professor of Practise, IITD and Yengul.

Explaining the benefits of redesigned products, Ranjan said, “The menstrual cup is easier to insert in and remove from the vagina and is cervix-friendly. Similarly, the detachable period underwear variant helps users easily replace the product, especially in public washrooms. The size adjustability feature is designed particularly keeping the rural women in mind who may not be sure about the size of the product suitable for them.”

Flaws in NGO-driven model

Ranjan and his team were disappointed when they did a pilot project with an NGO at a school in Ranchi. He said, “The NGO-distribution model is organisation centric and not beneficial for the end-user women. The typical awareness sessions conducted for awareness and isolated single-product distribution did not achieve the desired impact. From our survey and understanding, we need around 5,000 to convert one user to reusable green menstrual products. But NGOs and CSR-providing companies do not allocate the required budget for this. We decided to offer all products and there would be no third-party involvement in the reach-out exercise. We engaged local community members and entities like gram panchayat to directly connect and influence the end users.”

“In urban settings, sanitary napkin disposal machines are available. Still, disposing off those napkins, causes land, water or air pollution. Reusable napkins are not popular in rural areas because women do not have any private space to dry them. We saw a product-market fit for period underwear even though they are a bit costly,” he added.

“With the support of Sundara Fund, USA, as a project, we enabled Oriya Village in Hazaribagh city of Jharkhand state in India to become the first village in the country to adopt green menstruation from reusable Period Underwear in May 2022. We identified 75 menstruators in the village and distributed the products in three cycles from May 2022. We observed that 90 per cent of women are using it comfortably. Our interventions like detachable and size adjustment features were validated. We are now working on making the customised size of waist, hip coverage and height,” Ranjan stated.

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