She's building a business that can also solve a social need

Molly Hayward launched Cora to address cultural and economic barriers linked to monthly periods.
Molly Hayward launched Cora to address cultural and economic barriers linked to monthly periods. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 03, 2014

Some will find the subject of this column uncomfortable.

But business sometimes takes on that which makes us ill at ease: erectile dysfunction and incontinence, to name two.

Granted, Molly Hayward, 26, an entrepreneur from Northern Liberties, is tackling an especially rough topic: menstruation.

But take a deep breath and keep reading. As Elizabeth Killough, foundation manager at Untours Foundation in Media, a small-business funding source, said of Hayward in an e-mail, "She's part of a new inclusive economy that's pragmatic, fantastically sustainable, and growing. What's not to love and celebrate here!"

Besides making a profit, Hayward's business, Cora, is designed to address an unfathomable problem in developing countries: young girls missing school for days each month, jeopardizing their health and their ability to become economically self-sufficient, because they lack sanitary pads.

Cora plans to tackle that with a business model based on an emerging consumer trend: subscription boxes, popularized by such online vendors as Birchbox.com (beauty and grooming products) and Naturebox.com (healthy snacks).

At Corawomen.com, customized packages of organic sanitary pads, tampons, tea, and chocolate can be ordered for $15 to $35 a month. The sanitary products are from Natracare, an organic company started in 1989 in the United Kingdom.

Cora's profit is used to buy biodegradable sanitary pads manufactured by locally owned cooperatives in India and then distribute them to girls in need.

The pads are made of water hyacinth, an invasive weed plentiful in waterways of developing countries. By ordering supplies from the cooperatives, Cora is helping to support job creation and the future development of other production units in India and elsewhere.

"I wholeheartedly believe in the power of business to solve social problems," Hayward said. "The world can't support an endless supply of nonprofits."

Not a surprising outlook for a daughter of parents who "always instilled in us values around social justice and community work," said Hayward, who majored in government with a focus on economic development, human rights, and socioeconomic empowerment at Connecticut College.

After graduation, she worked for a tech start-up in Northern Liberties focused on sustainable products, and then helped start a like-minded clothing company in London in 2012, leaving after she could not obtain an entrepreneurial visa.

Hayward returned to the U.S. still driven by "this intense passion for social business." Research would lead her to Kenya, where she confirmed menstruation's disruptive role in struggling countries.

"I knew I had to come up with a way to solve this problem," said Hayward, enlisting a consumer group she knew could relate: women.

"This is something every woman can understand," she said.

Her order-what-you-need subscription boxes also aim to solve a problem here - "a kind of long-standing ignorance and sort of an inertia within women's health and menstrual management. We've just accepted what was given to us, even though it didn't meet our needs," Hayward said.

A one-year beta test launched in April 2013 that involved about 50 customers yielded an undisclosed amount of profit that is being held in escrow to purchase sanitary pads that will be made at a cooperative in Calcutta, said Hayward, Cora's only full-time employee.

Now comes business-building for Cora. On May 1, it launched a crowdfunding campaign on women-oriented Plum Alley - fund.plumalley.co/en/cora - to raise $28,000 by June 8 to substantially boost inventory and improve its ordering platform. As of late Sunday afternoon, $7,717 had been raised.

Cora is in the final stage of consideration for an Untours investment of $10,000 to $40,000, depending on how much is raised through Plum Alley, said Killough, who likened Hayward to a "superhero."

"These superheroes are paying it forward, building solutions to issues right into the DNA of their businesses," Killough said.

A Cora supporter in the minority, at least on its 10-member advisory board, is the sole male, David Friedman, a serial entrepreneur currently with Real Food Works, a Philadelphia-area start-up that delivers healthy meals made by local chefs.

When asked what attracted him to help Hayward, Friedman said:

"She's taking this model that's sort of catching on - a box of stuff delivered to you every month - put in a product that people have to use, make it easy for people to get a quality and responsible product they want, and we can also make the world a better place.

"There's nothing not to love."


>Inquirer.com

Hear Molly Hayward talk about championing women's rights and her decision to create Cora after a conversation with a girl in an African village. www.inquirer.com/business


dmastrull@phillynews.com

215-854-2466 @dmastrull

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