Some of the toughest industries to bring innovation to are those that are “taboo” — a condition or phenomenon where everyone knows it happens, many deal with it regularly, but nobody talks about it.
We’re talking hair loss (and removal!), acne, and men’s and women’s health issues. Never easy to talk about, even sometimes with your doctor.
But if you’ve been paying attention to the venture deals term sheets lately, it’s evident that the tide is beginning to turn. Nowhere is that more evident than menstrual care.
The feminine hygiene market is naturally broad — 50 percent of the population requires sanitary products for a good portion of their life. Women in the U.S. spend over $3 billion annually on feminine hygiene, with $16 billion spent globally.
Despite the numbers, the industry has remained dominated by the same legacy players for decades — and 50 percent of women say they are dissatisfied with the products available to them on the market.
Moreover, the traditional disposable products are expensive — a Reuters survey of low-income U.S. women found that nearly two-thirds couldn’t afford menstrual hygiene products at some point in the past year.
That’s the space Chante’ Knox and Dia Davis, both current Georgia State students, are stepping into. This past weekend, the two won top prizes for a total of $105,000 in a national entrepreneurship challenge for their patented menstrual cup product and feminine sanitary subscription service.
Menstrual cups have been around since the 1930’s, but have recently grown in popularity due to the lower cost, health and safety benefits (they eliminate the small chance of contracting a dangerous infection from a tampon), and convenience of being able to leave them in all day.
However, they tend to be difficult to remove and clean.
Knox began experimenting with different absorbent materials for menstrual cups over four years ago, when she determined she wanted such a product for herself. She found what she needed in medical-grade sponge material used for deep-wound surgeries.
She developed a long-lasting, disposable menstrual cup which has the same absorbent properties as traditional tampons and sanitary napkins. The product received a patent in 2018.
Knox teamed up on the business with COO Davis, who has a background in the payments industry and currently works at NCR, to build DelivHer, their startup that will manufacture and sell the cups.
The DelivHer solution, however, goes way beyond the cup. Knox and Davis intend to provide a full-service subscription model to help women mitigate the chore of being on her period.
A user will first take a short quiz to share more details on her cycle and symptoms. Then, for $24.99 a month, she will be shipped a personalized box with both DelivHer and other feminine hygiene products, along with supplements, pain medicine, and even personal care products.
Knox says that the subscription service is both a way to make life easier for users and a way to remove the barrier of entry to getting their product on the shelves in stores, which tend to be dominated by legacy players in the feminine care industry.
“Millennials are more apt to buy online — we like ease and we like subscription,” says Knox. For women who don’t want the full subscription, they can purchase the product online as well — $6 for a box of seven and $10 for 14.
The team captured the judges and audience when they pitched the business at the E-Fest National Entrepreneurship Challenge, a competition supported by Best Buy founder Richard M. Schulze’s Family Foundation.
DelivHer was up against 24 other startups founded by students or recent graduates. Startups ranged from a digital invoicing solution for the construction industry (from Auburn), to an automatic intravenous injection device to replace manual injections (Princeton), to a personal carbon emission tracker app (University of Florida).
Knox and Davis earned top awards in the pitch slam and Innovation Challenge, garnering them about $30,000 in prize money. They then turned their eyes to the final competition, the Schulze Entrepreneurship Challenge.
On Sunday, April 14, DelivHer won $75,000 in the Championship Round.
The money, says Knox, will go towards expanding manufacturing, growing their marketing efforts, and finalizing a soft launch to get the product in the hands of real women. The product is currently in its final manufacturing stages, with a soft launch planned for this summer and full production in the fall.
Though clearly at an earlier stage, DelivHer joins the ranks of startups like LOLA, a feminine care and sex products subscription service that recently raised a $24 million Series B, and Hims/Hers, a direct-to-consumer brand with sexual wellness products, skin care and hair loss treatments that has reached unicorn status.
Destigmatization, it turns out, can be quite an effective business model. But Knox also points out the social benefits of such a market approach.
For example, she is looking at the potential of the product for a customer like the U.S. military.
“If you think about women that need to be focused on the job and not focused on frequent trips to the restroom, who best other than our servicewomen?” Knox asked in her E-Fest pitch video.
She also brings up the challenges of the developing world, where it is common for women to have no access to any kind of feminine care, and for girls to miss school when they are on their cycle.
Lastly, she tells Hypepotamus that even many women in the U.S., such as women in shelters, may have very little access or ability to purchase feminine hygiene products.
“We plan to start at home and work our way out,” says Knox.