Honoring Women: Spotlight Saathi
Continuing our celebration of Women’s History Month, we sat down with Kristin Kagetsu and discussed Saathi, the Healthcare Category Winner for our 2020 competition, to learn more about her experience cofounding a startup and competing in XTC.
Q: Please tell us about your experience as a female founder in the world of tech. What were your most formative inspirations in entering this space?
From my childhood, I was passionate about empowering girls and women to make a difference. When I was 8, I took my first robotics class and by fifth grade, I had an opportunity to explore it as an after-school activity. In eighth grade, I entered the FIRST Lego League competition and that was the beginning of my obsession with robotics, engineering and all things STEM.
Throughout high school, I was the co-captain of our FIRST Robotics team which was one of the only all-girls teams in the region. Coming from an all-girls school, we were taught that girls could be anything, but there was still a lack of awareness about engineering. I advocated for girls to explore engineering as a career option and tried to find examples and role models to show that being an engineer meant that they could do so many things from robotics, to autonomous vehicle design, to making medical devices, to designing products that would help people in communities across the world.
Q: Did you have any specific role models that stimulated your interest in entrepreneurship or helped push you forward?
The major challenge was there were a very few women in STEM to look up to as role models. These experiences with FIRST taught me not only about engineering but also about teamwork, leadership and organization. Looking back, in some ways, it was almost like running a small company because we had to raise funds, write proposals and do marketing too.
One of my role models is Amy Smith, the founding director of MIT D-Lab, an innovative program in international development. She’s passionate about developing “appropriate technology” and helped me see how engineering push forward impactful technology solutions. It was during a DLab class that I traveled to India for the first time and realized that I wanted to continue to work in India.
Q: What was your inspiration to launch Saathi?
Only 18% of women had access to sanitary pads in India when we first conceived of Saathi, and regular pads were causing a plastic pollution crisis. My cofounder Tarun and I were passionate about developing a solution for women, and doing so in an environmentally sustainable way. Combining our passions led us to Saathi’s current mission and vision, which is to make products that are good for the body, the community and the environment. We created a patented technology to convert agricultural waste into absorbent material. Our first product was 100% biodegradable and compostable sanitary pads made from banana tree fiber which decompose within six months after use. Saathi’s positive impacts are built into our business model so when Saathi grows our impact does too. We buy agri-waste from farmers providing them extra income, our pads are made by our all-women staff, and the pads are sold in urban areas to subsidize distribution in rural communities and address the issue of period poverty.
Q: Do you have any progress milestones you can share with us since you won the XTC Healthcare Category of the global competition last July?
We won the XTC Healthcare Challenge in July 2020. Since then, we launched our subscription box model so our customers can always have pads handy, a trial box to reduce any barriers in making the switch, and a pad pouch for those that are taking pads with them when they go out. We launched a new version of our website with stronger UX features. We partnered with Ahmedabad Central Jail, Meghalaya Central Jail, and multiple NGOs such as Pad Squad, Ritva Foundation, and Tattv Bodh Foundation, amongst others, to distribute pads to those in need. We held design thinking workshops with Aara Health and Big Red Group. We raised awareness about the issues we’re addressing by speaking at Verge Accelerate, SOCAP, YourStory Tech Sparks, Mirchi Love, TEDxRVCE, Sankalp Forum, and Art of Living. We were recognized for our impact, sustainability and innovation by Meaningful Business 100, One Young World, as one of the Game Changing Founders of Color by SOCAP and as one of the 50 to Watch Companies in 2020 by Cleantech Group.
See our 2020 Rewind video here.
Q: Please share with us your short, and longer, term plans for Saathi.
In the short term, we are hiring for a few open positions, we’re looking for key partners for our scale-up plan, and we’re making progress on our joint campaign with Project Kilimanjaro and Tattv Bodh Foundation to reach underserved populations in India and help address period poverty in a bigger way.
Our goal is to reach 5,000 menstruators with biodegradable sanitary pads for an entire year as well as to host educational sessions on menstrual hygiene. The campaign is divided into two parts to allow people both inside and outside of India to get tax deductible benefits. We aim to support 2,500 menstruators through our GoFundMe Campaign and 2,500 menstruators through our GiveIndia Campaign. We're already able to reach 1,023+ menstruators which is 82% of our second milestone to support 1,250 menstruators!
See more about how to participate and additional info here.
Our long term plan includes scaling up to increase capacity and launch in the US. We have the supply chain and go-to-market plans ready. We’re now looking for the right funding partners to support this next phase of growth.
How exciting! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. We’ll look forward to tracking your progress along those milestones, and also to supporting your campaign. We encourage all of our readers to have a closer look too!