A young serial entrepreneur sops up millions in funding for her eco-friendly diapers
In a world where men are more likely to be seen as entrepreneurs, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard graduate Amrita Saigal is changing narratives, taking the challenges head-on, and raising the bar for younger women. The Saris to Suits® role model who loves to help people and enables them to create a change in the world, recently spoke to us about her awe-inspiring entrepreneurial journey and persistence in bringing the principles of ‘elegant sustainability’ to the forefront.
(Boston, MA, June 10, 2021) Born in Burlington, MA, to Ranjani and Anil Saigal, Amrita was a studious kid from the beginning, spending most of her childhood gaining knowledge. The other activities that captured her interest outside books were playing viola and practicing South Indian classical dance, Bharatanatyam. While growing up, her parents strongly insisted that she and her brother Arun consider a major in engineering. The 33-year-old entrepreneur says, “My father, who is a professor of mechanical engineering at Tufts University, felt that if we pursue this field, we would be able to graduate with a job lined up.”
After graduating in mechanical engineering from MIT, Amrita landed a job at Procter & Gamble, where she worked on the manufacturing side of Always Pads and Gillette razors. While working with the feminine-hygiene division, she realized that only 36% of women in India use sanitary pads. Around the same time, a conversation with her grandmother about the subject gave Amrita an accurate picture of the menstrual hygiene crisis in the country. “My grandmother grew up at a time when they did not have sanitary pads. Every girl would miss a few days of school each month because of inadequate sanitary protection and social taboos. Even today, the majority of households, especially in rural India, still cannot afford sanitary napkins, let alone use new-age sustainable menstrual products that are biodegradable, compostable, and reusable.”
In early 2012, Amrita co-founded Saathi Pads in India, a leading sanitary pad manufacturing company that makes 100% biodegradable sanitary napkins. “Women, especially in rural areas, where there is no proper trash and disposal systems, don’t have a place to dispose of these pads. My team and I established a manufacturing plant in the state of Gujarat (the western part of India) and started manufacturing fully biodegradable and compostable sanitary napkins made out of waste banana fiber. This fiber is known for its highly absorbent properties and ecological benefits,” shares the MIT grad. The start-up stint gave her a thorough understanding of navigating new terrain and won the company a $50,000 grant from Harvard Business School’s New Venture Competition.
In due course of time, she joined Harvard Business School and spent the next five years in San Francisco working for Google Glass. Reflecting on her journey, the 33-year-old entrepreneur says, “We did face some challenges in finding suppliers and manufacturers who were willing to work with us when our company was still new, finding partners that aligned with our vision, understanding the consumers and their preferences, and then language was a barrier. But if you ask me, I would say we did very well. Launching Saathi Pads in India has been a great entrepreneurial journey.”
In 2019, Amrita moved to back to Boston with her husband Karthish Manthiram, a professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and her biggest and loudest cheerleader. With time, as she entered her thirties, many of her friends started to have children. When they found no high-performing, eco-friendly diaper available in the market, they suggested her to develop something similar to Saathi Pads for newborns. Saigal’s natural instinct to understand the goals, vision, needs, and desires of anyone she encounters prompted her to find a way to create a naturally sourced, leak-defying diaper that adheres to all the environmental standards. This gave birth to Kudos, the first of its kind disposable diaper to have earned the natural™ seal from Cotton Inc for having lined with 100% natural cotton. The MIT-Harvard graduate says, “Diapers are the third-largest contributors on landfill waste because every child from zero to potty-trained goes through about 6000-7000 diapers. Most of these are engineered to feel soft, but unfortunately this soft material is just plastic. Parents have little understanding of that. Many of them do not even know that cotton is clinically proven to be hypoallergenic and non-irritating to baby’s sensitive skin.” That’s where Kudos fills in. Not only are Kudos diapers lined with 100% natural cotton, but also free of harmful ingredients.
Launched in the first week in June, Kudos is currently available only in the United States as a direct-to-consumer product sold from the website. The company hopes to make its mark in the US market before expanding to Canada, Western Europe, and India. It has already won a $30,000 grant from Harvard Business School.
Amrita has proved that women’s commitment to their business is no less than men’s. With her company raising millions in investor funding, she has upped the game in the hygiene market. “While many of our investors, who are parents themselves, resonated with our vision, it is not super common that someone comes from an established consumer packaged goods company while also having created her own startup already – this track record also probably gave investors the confidence to invest in an audacious and bold vision to disrupt a tough-to-penetrate market.”
(Manvi Pant is a staff writer for Saris to Suits ® Omniscient Perspective. After a corporate career spanning eight years, she has moved to academics and also runs her storytelling platform Real Life Heroes. Founded by former network news anchor Patti Tripathi, US-based Saris to Suits ® focuses on building awareness to break down the barriers that constrain the advancement of women and girls. We aim to advance women’s empowerment, education, gender inclusivity, equality and social justice. www.SarisToSuits.org)