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香蕉树皮变护垫:哈佛创业冠军的印度梦

Lauren Everitt 2014年05月07日

一个叫做“萨蒂”、致力于为印度农村妇女提供低成本卫生巾和工作机会的社会企业日前赢得哈佛商学院新创业大赛最高奖。创始人之一阿姆瑞塔•赛加尔说,希望这个项目能帮助今天的印度妇女避免她祖母小时候的窘境。

    阿姆瑞塔•赛加尔(右一)

    上周二,哈佛大学(Harvard University)2014届MBA学生阿姆瑞塔•赛加尔和她的创业伙伴、甲骨文公司(Oracle)工程师克里斯汀•卡盖楚在哈佛商学院(Harvard Business School)主办的顶级创业大赛中出尽风头,一举囊括了新创业大赛(New Venture Competition)社会企业家组别大奖和最受观众喜爱奖。

    她们的创意是什么呢——成立一家叫做“萨蒂”(Saathi)的社会企业,为印度农村妇女提供低成本卫生巾和工作机会。这两位都持有麻省理工学院(MIT)机械工程学位的参赛者获得了赛事评委和满堂现场观众的交口称赞,最终击败了其他参赛者的创意——在尼日利亚建立一家采用农户加企业模式的番茄酱生产商,在哥伦比亚创设一个学费计划,以及一个教育咨询服务。两人打算携带5万美元奖金,去印度实践她们的创业梦想。

    萨蒂大获全胜后不久,社交网站Poets&Quants在哈佛商学院对赛加尔进行了独家专访。她敞开心扉,畅谈了这个创意的灵感源泉,以及哈佛商学院课程和教授对这次创业做出的重大贡献等话题。

    这个创意是如何产生的?

    我此前在麻省理工学院(MIT)学习工程专业,上大三那年,我在宝洁公司(Proctor & Gamble)女性卫生事业部获得了一个实习机会。那时我21岁,还没有意识到宝洁女性卫生产品指的是好自在(Always)和丹碧丝(Tampax),我还以为是海飞丝(Head & Shoulders)和潘婷(Pantene)。

    说老实话,上班第一天,我就发现了一件让我万分震惊的事情。我是一位设计师,那个暑期正在设计设备,一个事实横亘在我面前:印度农村的妇女竟然没有护垫可用。由于护垫问题,女孩没法去上学。这就是灵感源泉。这个创意就是这么来的。我知道我可以让人们对它产生浓厚的兴趣。

    大四那年返回校园后,经过我的一番劝说,我的设计团队开始开创一个小规模的制造工艺,利用印度农村现有的纤维制造护垫。我们观察了许多种纤维,还跟麻省理工学院的一个化学工程团队展开了合作。他们透露说,香蕉树的树皮是世界上最吸水的纤维,而且它是现成的。

    香蕉树有一个很有意思的现象。我当时还不知道,从种树到收获香蕉需要9到12个月,但香蕉树只能结一次果,果农每年都得砍掉主茎。他们通常会把它砍成许多小块,其中一些被用作化肥,但绝大多数都被果农简单地堆积起来,等着腐烂。

    最终的产品是如何生产的?消费者是否接受这种用树干做成的护垫?

    我们把树皮加工成纤维,就这样,它最终变成一种干燥的粉末状纤维质材料,完全可以用来填充护垫。所以说,它是一种非常蓬松的材质,我们都尝试过了,消费者对它很满意。

    最近获得的这个奖项对你意味着什么?

    有了这笔钱,我们就可以去印度真正启动这项事业。也就是说,我们能够走进印度乡村,直接跟妇女们合作。

    Harvard MBA candidate Amrita Saigal (class of 2014) and her co-founder, Oracle engineer Kristin Kagetsu, swept Harvard Business School's top entrepreneurship contest on Tuesday, nabbing the grand prize and the audience choice award in the New Venture Competition's social entrepreneurship category.

    Their idea? Saathi -- a social enterprise startup that provides low-cost sanitary napkins and jobs to women in rural India. The two, who both hold mechanical engineering degrees from MIT, wowed both the judges and the jam-packed audience at the Harvard event, drawing top marks – enough to push them ahead of a farm-to-market tomato paste producer in Nigeria, a school tuition program in Colombia, and an education consulting service. The two will use their $50,000 prize to move to India and open up shop.

    Poets&Quants caught up with Saigal at HBS shortly after Saathi's big win. She explains everything from the inspiration behind the idea to the HBS classes and professors that played a pivotal role in creating the business.

    What gave you the idea for Saati?

    I landed an internship my junior year as an undergraduate engineering student at MIT with Proctor & Gamble (PG) in the feminine hygiene division. I was 21 years old and did not realize that feminine hygiene meant Always and Tampax -- I thought it meant Head & Shoulders and Pantene.

    I showed up on the first day and was honestly shocked at what I found. I was a designer, and designing equipment that summer, I was confronted with the fact that women in rural India didn't have access to pads. Girls were not going to school because of pads. So that was the inspiration. And I knew I could get people passionate about this idea I really cared about.

    So I came back to MIT my senior year and convinced my senior design team that we should create a small-scale manufacturing process to make pads out of some type of locally available fiber. We looked at a number of fibers and partnered with a chemical engineering team at MIT who told us that the bark of a banana tree is the most absorbent fiber in the world and it's readily available.

    The interesting thing about banana trees, which I didn't know, is that from the time you plant the tree to the time you get the bananas takes nine to 12 months. But they only produce the bananas once, and then you have to cut down the main shoot every year. The farmers cut it up into little pieces and use some of it as fertilizer, but they just stack the majority of it in piles and piles, waiting for it to decompose.

    How do you produce the final product? Are consumers okay with tree trunk?

    We process the bark into fibers so it comes out as stringy pieces, which are dried and pulverized, and that provides filling for the pads. So it's a nice fluffy material that we've all tried and the consumers are fine with it.

    What does the recent win mean for you?

    That we'll be able to go to India and actually launch the business – we'll be on the ground and able to work directly with the women.

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