By Olivia Ahn
Polipop is tackling the 200,000 tonnes of sanitary product landfill waste every year in the UK with a solution that is both sustainable and convenient. We are developing the market’s first flushable and biodegradable sanitary products. These are redesigned to have a higher absorbability than current disposable products, and will disintegrate away within minutes down a toilet.
Seven years ago, we were in the same halls in their first year of university at Imperial College. We then lived together during our final year when a confusing conversation brought to light the complexity and issues around periods! We have grown our team of two since we won WE Innovate in 2017 (previously called Althea) with a manufacturing and distribution lead and R&D team in India.
Since WE Innovate, we have been meeting with Janet Murray, an advisor through the Enterprise Lab. Her clarity and focus has helped us through multiple obstacles since our beginnings. Not only has her business expertise been invaluable to us, but also Janet has been cheering us on from the start. Having a knowledgeable, experienced advisor is fantastic, but also having her believe in us and personally cheer us on is invaluable.
We are also part of IVMS who has provided us with three mentors: Davide Turi, Deepali Nangia, and Neil Bellamy. Their expertise range from start-up consultancy, angel investment, to banking and telecommunication.
For the past two years the Enterprise Lab have been invaluable. Not only was WE Innovate pivotal to us taking the leap and pursuing Polipop full-time, there has also been continual sincere support from Nikita and Liz through invitations to forums, such as WE Health in Stockholm, Turin School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation conference, and the World Economic Forum conference in China. This support is fantastic for networking and learning about other startups in similar fields. As both Aaron and Olivia have come from backgrounds not rooted in entrepreneurship, this support has been key in both co-founders learning on the job and this support has also provided us with publicity – such as articles when we won the London Mayor Entrepreneurship Challenge 2018. Having support from Imperial Enterprise Lab is crucial in lending a young startup credibility, especially for going up against giants in the market such as Always and Bodyform.
We are reaching the final stages of R&D of our first product: flushable and biodegradable sanitary pads. Currently going through human usability testing and UK and EU flushability tests for flushability accreditation. As product development is moving forward, we are actively pursuing multiple traction channels as we prepare to launch in early 2019.
Our biggest successes so far have been: Winning WE Innovate – this showed us the potential in our company and product. This external validation gave us the push to start the company and for Aaron to go full-time into the company; Winning London Mayor Entrepreneur 2018 – this was the first competition we had entered when we had developed our flushable products. Whilst we had validation from alpha testers that flushable sanitary products were wanted, the feedback from the judges and the publicity and feedback from the public after this competition was overwhelming. We realised that this was very much needed within the sanitary product market as supported by shocking statistics of the impact and the toll current products on the environment and users; and finally when the first batch of flushable and biodegradable sanitary pads were successfully manufactured – our first manufactured products was a huge milestone for us.
There have been a few set-backs along the way. Developing an alpha version of our app without a clear product vision and purpose – we used our WE Innovate winnings to develop our prototype app. We rushed into this without seeing clearly how the app would integrate into the company and support the product. We have learnt from this and any further steps we now take, have clear product vision and purpose.We also needed to pivot from a biodegradable sanitary pad as we found that a sole eco-focus was not enough for a large audience. This was both a set-back, as well as one of our successes. We had initially started the company with a sole environmental focus, however after researching our market audience found that the reason for starting the company (environmental impact) was not actually a good enough reason for our audience to switch from existing products and brands. Having to go back to the drawing board was disheartening as we felt we had started on the wrong foot. However, in retrospect, this was the best thing to have happened. As with the example above, most our set-backs generally turn out to be a positive experience, as there is always something to learn from it.
Always validate. It is time consuming and can be disheartening but I found that not waiting until ‘perfect’ before validating with anyone (market audience, online research, google surveys, street surveys) was crucial in developing something that someone will want. I was used to the traditional method of testing and trials from medicine where we would extensively do in-house testing before approaching the public. Turning that thinking on its head for entrepreneurship was a big step in making sure every decision and step was validated with our audience.