Happy Periods & Happy Planet: This Entrepreneur’s Sustainable Period Product Reduces 99% Of Plastic Waste!

‘Being sustainable is the future!’ — that’d be the only key to sustain a better life — for us and our coming generations.

While Kiriti Acharjee, 31, believed in creating a brand that could be an eco-friendly choice for people, he also wanted it to remain true to its cause — something that could actually bring a difference in people’s lives.

And that’s how GoPadFree was born!

An eco-friendly period product labelled under the brand Healthfab, GoPadFree aims at replacing plastic sanitary napkins — to bring comfort to women & create a more plastic-free society. It reduces the total plastic waste generated during its lifetime by over 99%. While there are period panties in the market, this is the first stand-alone, reusable panty of its kind. 

Happy Periods & Happy Planet This Entrepreneur’s Sustainable Period Product Reduces 99% Of Plastic Waste!

Unlike menstrual cups, which are a sustainable alternative but neglected due to the taboo and fear of insertion, GoPadFree wants women to experience a hassle-free and comfortable menstruation.

And though it is one of the major USPs of the product, it is not the sole reason for Kiriti to start it.

“I was looking to create a solution that would make the lives of the working women in my family easier. They found it difficult to go to work during their periods since there were fewer to no places to change pads and dispose of the old ones. Gradually, I realized that this was not restricted to my household. This prompted me to make a reusable period panty — that could replace conventional sanitary pads. There is no reason that we can’t provide sanitary care solutions and save the environment at the same time! Our product was a direct solution to all the problems,” shares Kiriti.

“I decided to start Healthfab — with the express purpose of providing a comfortable and hassle-free environment for menstruating women. I decided to test this first in my inner circle. After six months of testing and incorporating the feedbacks, I came up with the final product, the GoPadFree reusable stand-alone period panty. The product — claiming to be the first and currently the only one of its kind in India — was ranged on Amazon in 2020 at a premium pricing and has become quite successful since.”

Before starting Healthfab, Kiriti worked with Flextronics (known since 2015 as Flex) as a senior analyst in their supply chain and procurement domain. “It was here that I understood supply chain, procurement, and logistic operations at a large scale,” he adds.

“After working in Flex for 4 years, I decided to switch industries and jumped into e-commerce and joined Amazon as Associate Account Manager. A year later, I opted to join Cloudtail (a joint venture between Amazon and Catamaran Ventures). I was given a portfolio of ~USD 75 million to manage and grow. I decided to quit my job around August 2019 and started to learn more about other marketplace nuances operating in the Indian continent,” he further continues.

He was joined by Saurav Chakraborty and Satyajit Chakraborty as co-founders in September 2019, and they together registered their company officially.

As of this writing, the team managed to sell around 10,000 units and save 3 tonnes of sanitary plastic. “We have not been aggressive in promoting our product and have invested all our efforts in perfecting its features. We did not even expect to sell these many units so soon, but the customer response has exceeded our expectations,” the 31YO optimistically adds.

GoPadFree is currently one of the top 75 sanitary products on Amazon. The startup has also started selling in the Middle East and has got very reassuring responses from the customers there. 

“While the product is highly rated with excellent reviews on Amazon, the aspect that has truly delighted us is the number of users who have reached out to us through our website to appreciate us for the product and give their detailed thoughts and feedback. This has made the whole experience personal — it makes us feel that we have genuinely made enough of a difference in someone’s life that they took time off to contact us!”

Kiriti shares recalling the positive feedback

While every industry can talk about having a personal effect on its customers, it is never truer for anyone more than it is for the health and hygiene industry. The level of trust that a brand in this space can command from its customers is huge, and consequently, the rise and fall of a brand is intense. 

“We have seen our customers treat us with doubt and suspicion before trying our product. We have also seen the insane level of comfort and familiarity they show to us once they have tried and bought into our product proposition. Each of us in the team has worked in a different industry, and none of us has experienced this level of engagement with any customer before. Our biggest lesson, consequently, is about taking the trust of the customer extremely seriously. There is absolutely no room to repair the situation once that trust is broken,” the CEO shares.

Menstrual health is still a taboo in today’s world — more so in India, it is an extremely under-served segment — where these issues are barely acknowledged, let alone discussed in public. This is that one common barrier that cuts across all demographics.

Since the ideation stage, all the insights and feedbacks incorporated were received from females in friends and family. But as the startup grew and broadened its customer base, Healthfab’s biggest challenge was to break through that social barrier and talk to potential customers.

Kiriti wanted his startup to be free of that social barrier. With all the male co-founders and one female in the team, the idea was to neutralize period talks and make people realize that periods are common and men can too talk about it!

“One thing we learned early in our journey is the importance of being willing to be proved wrong. This wasn’t a category we knew well and had to learn everything from scratch. A lot of information we obtained was disproved over time, and we changed course accordingly. This was particularly intense for the category we are working in since the janta doesn’t talk about it much. We approached every situation with the assumption that we may not always be right, and that helped us get a far better understanding of our customer than what we would have had otherwise,” he further shares.

While talking about investments and profits, Kiriti shares, “we are bootstrapped and has been focusing on expanding our categories. We believe that our product has achieved a level of acceptance that can now allow us to scale. We are working on additional product lines which are specific to the health and personal hygiene category. The underlying philosophy, though, is that they will all be environmentally friendly. We will further be approaching investors in order to expand our operations and manufacturing.”

Kiriti believes that if everything, in the beginning, is going your way, then you are on the wrong track! “For anyone who wants to start off, it is to surround yourself with folks who can offer constructive criticism for everything you do. That’s the only way you can ensure you are on the right track,” the entrepreneur ends it on an optimistic note.

You can visit Healthfab here or can connect via Facebook or Instagram.

With so many startups working in the femtech sector, the future is disruptive, competitive, yet demanding!

Stay tuned with NextBigWhat for more such innovative and informative stories! #TowardsABetterWorld

With 1000+ Farmers, This Bengaluru-Based Startup Brings You Food Directly From The Farm!

Globally, 70% of the world’s food is produced by small-holder farmers using only 30% of the agricultural land. This implies that small farmers are actually more efficient in their use of resources. However, small farmers have their backs against the wall – and a key reason for this is the lack of market access that rewards a farmer for adopting sustainable and responsible farming practices.

While there are several inefficiencies in the agricultural industry, especially in India across production, distribution, risk management, financing etc., the market linkage piece is the most broken – there is demand, and there is supply – it’s just that they are completely mismatched. It’s a pity that there are hungry folks across the world, while at the same time such a huge percentage of our produced food gets wasted.

One aspect that does not get talked about much, which is critical, is that we as consumers are also responsible for the agriculture space problems. We ask for out of season produce all throughout the year, we ask for good-looking produce instead of nutritionally rich produce, we baulk at the first sign of imperfect produce, we are way too sensitive to food prices and like keeping it artificially low – our preferences play an important role in creating the inefficiencies in the agricultural market.

Inception

When Bengaluru-based Gitanjali Rajamani, Shameek Chakravarty & Sudaakeran Balasubramaian realised this fallback, they decided to come back with their agritech venture, Farmizen.

Farmizen is trying to build an alternative food system, where consumers eat locally grown nutritious food on soil that is tended well by farmers who make a fair living out of that. At the same time, it has also built a platform that lets small organic farmers sell directly to consumers without having to worry about demand generation and logistics.

Interesting isn’t it?!

With 1000+ Farmers, This Bengaluru-Based Startup Brings You Food Directly From The Farm!

So how exactly the entire idea kicked off?

“We saw that the food system is broken – for all three stakeholders – consumers, farmers and the planet. This is because all aspects of the food system are geared to optimising towards economies of scale. The current food supply chain demands goods transported to multiple distribution centres, via multiple aggregators, before they arrive at stores where they are presented to shoppers as anonymous produce that sit on shelves for days and weeks, and in the process, causes wastage of up to 40%. This food is mass-produced, giving us terrible food in terms of both taste and nutrition, and has a significant environmental impact in terms of soil and water health. It’s a lose-lose-lose system with farmers making less than 20% of what the food is sold for, consumers getting unhealthy food that is not fresh and does not taste great, and the planet suffering. We started Farmizen to fix this,” says Shameek, co-founder, Farmizen.

With Farmizen, Gitanjali & Shameek wanted to bring the much-needed change and the opportunities which small and poor farmers were losing.

None of them had an Agri background – so it was not an easy road to walk on. They learned hard lessons on how much effort is needed while growing food and then the amount of effort needed to get it to our plates. “We spent a bit longer than we should have, in the original model we had launched with – we should have pivoted to our current farm to fork model earlier,” Shameek shares. There were hurdles, fallbacks and a steep learning curve. But eventually, it paid off well!

“We don’t stop and think about it – but that 20 rupee bunch of palak we ate for lunch today – had a farmer preparing the soil, sowing seeds, harvesting, cleaning, bunching, dispatching it – and then someone did a quality check on it and figured out how to get it to you before it wilted. The chain is complex and requires close coordination across all pieces – it’s not easy,” Shameek further added.

Farmizen believes that the future of food is in helping small farmers succeed and letting them shepherd our soil and natural resources in a climate-friendly way.

It’s their hard work, dedication and undoubtedly the passion to bring a positive change that kept them going.

As of this writing, Farmizen is working with ~1000 farmers with an annual run rate of about 15 crores INR. In fact, the pandemic brought them 3x revenue!!

“Since ours is a localised supply chain – we did not see any disruptions and were able to keep operating all through the lockdown – smaller supply chains are more resilient. We were in business even while larger players like BigBasket were struggling to get going,” says Gitanjali.

Learnings & fallbacks

The government gives so many schemes for the welfare of farmers, yet the farming industry is still so down, and so many people are giving up on farming. According to Shameek, the following could be the possible reasons behind this:

“1.  Many of the subsidies are ill-thought-out – and distort the market – for example, the urea subsidy is hugely problematic because it incentives modes of farming which destroy soil and pollute our water bodies. Free water for farming incentivises bad cropping practices, for example.

2.  Several schemes are on paper – and very difficult to get benefits of, by farmers, at the ground level. Farmers need to deal with corruption and bribery at the local executive level to avail of some of these schemes.

3.  Most of the schemes take a myopic view of the system – does not consider all costs involved – for example, does not consider long term costs that all of us pay in terms of environmental health and our health, in the pursuit of producing cheap food, which is important for political reasons.

4.  There is a wrong narrative which is being set by Big Ag – fertiliser, pesticide, seed company lobbies – we need to understand that all of them are in business to extract profits pools from the agricultural value chain – and they need to be regulated far better – and the narratives they set need to be examined and questioned. Unfortunately, a lot of what is taught in our agricultural universities is designed to further the narrative, which makes profits for Big Ag – at the expense of the small farmer and our planet.

5.  In a nutshell, the reason the small farmer today is giving up on farming is simple – they are not able to sell their produce at a fair price which allows them to live a dignified life.”

So, though it seems all shiny and abundant, there are enough potholes to fix!!

But it is also true that organic farming/ handmade/ sustainable living being the latest facades, it, indeed, is boosting the farmers’ economy as well. “Though it is helpful, more farmers need to take action – and build their own brands. We are seeing a D2C (direct to consumer) revolution in the country in other industries currently, and farmers must build their own brands – be it for their products or for value-added products they make out of their own produce,” Sudaakeran adds.

The modern agritech industry is slowly taking up, and it will continue to flourish in the coming years. As estimated by FAO, by 2050, the world will need 60% more food to feed the population. So yes, there is DEMAND!!

#FutureOfWork

Talking about the future plans, Farmizen will soon be rolling across the country. “Our zero-inventory, cap-ex light and tech-enabled model make it easier to launch in multiple places without needing massive outlays. Now that we have fine-tuned our playbook, we plan to play on a bigger canvas in multiple locations,” Gitanjali shares.

“Get a small patch of land. Grow your own vegetables for 3-4 months. Try to sell it to your neighbours in your apartment complex. You will learn a bunch of stuff in the process!”

Gitanjali encourages newcomers to get their hands a little dirty on the soil.

With the pandemic at our doorstep, consumers have become more mindful about their food. They are trying to learn more about food, the benefits and the correct way to consume it. Farmizen helps its customers learn more about their food and how it is grown, thus helping them make better choices!

With almost 8.1K+ startups working in the agritech sector, the future is disruptive, competitive, yet demanding!

Stay tuned with NextBigWhat for more such inspiring and informative stories! #TowardsABetterWorld

Why Should Rich Have All The Clean Air? This Startup Is Making Everyone Self-reliant!

Indoor air pollution (IAP) is one of the world’s major environmental problems. The major reason behind this is the usage of solid fuels for cooking inside the house, which leads to the contamination of air resulting in ambient air pollution. 

As per IHME, ~2.6 million people died prematurely in 2016 from diseases attributable to IAP globally. In fact, approximately 64% of Indian households still use solid fuels for their cooking purposes.

According to the Tracking SDG7: The Energy Progress Report 2018, if the current pattern continues, 2.3 billion people would be still using biomass in 2030 globally. 

Renewable energy, undoubtedly, is the need of the hour. A lot of startups are working to curb this issue. One such startup, based out of Bihar, is trying to change the daily lives of several rural households with their ‘green’ idea, generating employment opportunities for many.

Akansha Singh & Ashutosh Kumar, co-founders of Swayambhu Innovative Solution, wanted to serve the bottom of the pyramid and make the rural residents self-sustainable and self-reliant in the field of energy (cooking fuel & electricity) and organic manure. The people they serve are mostly from SC/ST and BPL communities, daily wage workers or small & marginal farmers.

Akansha is an alumnus of Banasthali Vidyapith and Tata Institute of Social Sciences. “My college taught me the art of serving back to society. I have always kept myself engaged in some social activities,” she says.

“While completing my thesis in my masters, I stayed in a village with my group of friends. We not only stayed but also practised their lifestyle and daily itinerary. I noticed that most women were cooking on conventional fuel; farmers used to irrigate farms late at night due to irregular electricity supply. The whole village was closed by evening — agriculture was at a loss due to excessive usage of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and adulterated organic fertilizers. That’s when I realized how much these people needed help and guidance — they needed to be self-reliant,” she further added.

Over 800 million people in India are affected by indoor air pollution, mainly caused by smoke from burning solid

source

The amount of wet waste they generated was enough to convert into energy and slurry as organic fertilizer. We decided to use that energy for activities like cooking, setting up decentralized rural enterprises etc. 

And this is how Swayambhu Innovative Solution came into the picture.

The duo generally works with village mukhiyas or any government department that has a hold-in that particular community. A basic survey is also conducted for deep insights like the number of households, members/ family, caste, availability of cattle, land availability and basic financial details. Funding is either arranged by the organization itself or by the village community, or sometimes by both. 

They are in an early stage, have been recognized by the Government of Bihar, and have worked with ten villages so far, impacting ~2.5k villagers.

“The road was not easy for us. We have faced so many challenges and rejections from the village communities and funding agencies because of the misconception and lack of knowledge of biogas plants. But with time, we managed to make them understand both the concept and importance of it,” says Ashutosh. The people, as he says, are now quite positive and looking forward to installing biogas plants in their villages.

Though the renewable energy sector is encouraged by the government, funding is also an issue. A lot of organizations are helping with funds/ grants but not much when it comes to biogas plants. We have been working in Bihar, where we have a shortfall of industries and almost no availability of CSR funds. Even if it is, it routed through big organizations or government agencies. We, as a startup, struggle hard in receiving those funds.

Akansha and Ashutosh have been working with some of the most remote villages and Naxal affected areas in Bihar. They have realized how hard it had been for them since the resources were next to zero for them. “The locals have been really supportive and enthusiastic,” says the duo.

Apart from the biogas projects in the future, the duo is also planning to extend their services to generate more livelihoods by establishing a Decentralized Rural enterprise (DRE) by providing training to women and engaging more individuals in organic farming.

“Indian villages are still not explored, and there is so much to do for them — with them. City life definitely attracts, but small villages, especially those in the country’s remote parts, need more help and support. There is a huge gap between rural and urban living, and only individuals/ organizations like us can bridge this gap,” Ashutosh added.

About one million deaths occur annually in India due to household air pollution, according to a report by The Lancet Respiratory Medicine Commission

Source

Working in the development sector requires you not to expect much, and Akansha & Ashutosh are quite happy with what they are doing right now. “Every rejection gives you confidence, and every failure means another learning. And one must keep learning and unlearning,” they end with this!

Swayambhu Innovative Solution is also recognized by Startup India and incubated under Atal Incubation Center (AIC) Banasthali, supported by NITI AAYOG. You can visit their website and reach out to them via this link.

Climatic & Ecological Trauma: The Story Behind The Inception Of Zerodha’s Rainmatter Foundation!

“There won’t be much of an economy or stock market left without a planet!”

When Zerodha decided to commit $100 million funds towards initiatives to combat climate change, it wasn’t just a random (or namesake) CSR act ― it was their love, responsibility and pain for this planet that made them support grassroots individuals and organisations working on problems related to climate change.

“Climate Change is no longer a problem for just researchers and governments to deal with and solve. We’re seeing an impact from it in a variety of ways. There is a strong belief in the team that this is our responsibility, too and much beyond mandatory CSR levels. It’s not just a “domain” to address or profit from,” says Sameer Shisodia, CEO, Rainmatter Foundation.

The Rainmatter Foundation is making both grant funding as well as investments in entrepreneurship that can create scaled solutions for addressing various aspects and impact of the climate change and ecological crisis we face. They are largely going after the ideas and organisations that have already done good work or shown some promise and helping them be more effective in terms of lasting changes over a longer period, and is being replicated or scaled across the country, either directly or through shared learnings and playbooks.

Love for nature

Sameer, on the other hand, has also been running Linger Leisure, an eco-friendly and sustainable chain of properties offering vacation rentals and workations.

“I’ve been running Linger for over ten years now, and more recently, have helped create multiple permaculture-based farming collectives for communities that live more sustainably and regeneratively. In both cases, my exposure to a wider, larger India has been immense, and I have started to understand ― or at least have deeper questions about ― the problems and issues we face as a country significantly better. I have seen consumerism especially represented through packaged food, start to devastate even remote ecologies and economies; I have been witness to changes that are adding up to a very scary future across the country and at least have some thoughts around how these might be fundamentally addressed,” Sameer continues.

However, grants or funding are not the only things required to bring a large scale change; he believes: “impact, philanthropy, giving back, sustainability etc., are all popular notions these days. They sometimes deflect from more serious responsibility and deeper engagement. Big corporations, individuals and society and governments all need to double down on issues like climate change that impact everyone and everything. We need not just funding commitment, but a lot of collaboration, technology, research and especially a huge amount of messaging that helps make the issue and discussion mainstream.

Finally, the test will be when corporations face the hard decisions that need them to pick less ecologically harmful or even regenerative practices over cost savings or even growth. At every level, we have to realise that the larger good is critical for the survival of each of us and what we do.”



Inside the Rainmatter

On asking him about the operation and survival strategy of Rainmatter, Sameer says that they do not take any equity for grant funding; however, there are some small amount of equity involved in case of investments. “We’re structured as a section 8 company, and the idea of the investment is not profit, per se, but the growth of good ideas. The profits and payouts from these investments will, of course, be ploughed back into the fund and help with further grants and investments. In all grants and investments, we look for the possibility of the idea growing at a country scale or beyond. Indeed we think good ideas should be replicated rapidly by many, and further iterations and local adaptations will create solutions that make sense everywhere,” he further adds.

Rainmatter has supported many great organisations that are working to protect and extend forests, wildlife to further and popularise agro-ecological techniques that benefit the environment, strengthen localised economies, help with waste management, and solutions that drive energy efficiency, amongst others. They further plan to foster wide-ranging collaborations across problem solvers, create playbooks that help many more start solving problems in their neighbourhood. They are also starting to support journalism and storytelling focused on ecological issues and how they relate to us every day.

Is the government supporting/ backing up such startups or initiatives? Sameer believes that every solution must either become part of the market in a sustainable way or become institutionalised, depending on whether “I” need to pay for it or “We” should, as in the case of cleaner commons for all.

“There is a lot of institutional support available that can be used, and once enough folks in geography or context want something, the government usually does follow up with policy, laws, provisions and funds for it. Part of what we are trying to do is discover and make available the policy, funding support that exists that can be used towards climate change solutions. We do believe the government is an important part of solving these problems, as is civil society, and we need a very large set of collaborations going between these,” he says.

Need of the hour

And do you remember how the initial phase of lockdown cleaned out the lakes/ ponds and even the Delhi clouds? #DoPalKiKhusiyaan… Well, that was just a temporary phenomenon and not sustainable either!

It also came at a huge economic and human cost. “While it did present an opportunity to create a more spread out localised economy and relook at how our economic engine works, I think the changes need to be a lot more structural, will happen over time and hopefully with a positive impact on people and livelihood rather than as a shock. Of course, without starting the journey in this direction, we can almost certainly expect many sudden disruptions, shocks and much pain ― COVID was only one such that we came face to face with,” adds the Bengaluru based serial entrepreneur.

NextBigWhat asked Sameer if the Rainmatter Foundation is further looking to invest or focus on other Sustainable Development Goals to which he replied, “The climate change problem is deeply linked to the structure and nature of our economy, to livelihoods. It finds parallels and both cause and effect in the problems we see today with equitable distribution. It has deep roots in how human society, and especially agriculture, has developed over the ages. The SDGs talk about these issues, but we would rather not look at those as separate, isolated silos ― we risk too many short terms, symptomatic fixes with that approach.

We believe that there are four broad pillars that help make a place more livable, and people can and will fundamentally care about places they live in and depend on. We are trying to foster multi-dimensional problem solving, even as we pitch for urgent attention to address the most broken one ― the ecology ― in whatever problem solving is being attempted.”

The untold compunction

“I have two kids stepping into the world, and I say sorry to them often for leaving them a world that’s broken in so many ways. We have been terrible custodians for a generation and a half, and I wish I personally, and we collectively, had woken up to this earlier and started to create better goals for us all than the limited, self-focused ones we pursue today, and also create a set of better tools the coming generations could build upon for truly making the planet a better place to inhabit,” Sameer ends with an emotional yet practical and worrisome thought!

Cheers to Rainmatter Foundation and several other similar initiatives that are trying to make this world a better place to live in ― for us ― for our future generations! You can check their website here!

Stay tuned with NextBigWhat for more such inspiring and informative stories! #TowardsABetterWorld

Also read: How a Harvard Dropout Joined the Global Billionaire’s Club!