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。
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)。
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.