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Acara alumna wins big

Why aren’t menstrual cups mainstream?

That question led Elise Maxwell to develop a Web-based business to make menstrual cups — reusable devices that catch rather than absorb menstrual fluid — more readily available to women and provide a safe place to talk about women’s health. In August, Ova Woman won the student division of the MN Cup competition for entrepreneurs — reaping a $30,000 cash prize.

An MBA student in the Carlson School of Management, Maxwell developed her idea for Ova Woman during the weeklong Acara course on launching social ventures. Acara is a strategic initiative of the Institute on the Environment, offering courses, workshops and field experiences to help student entrepreneurs build successful start-up companies that address social or environmental problems.

The business was chosen as a finalist for the MN Cup out of 1,300 entries.

Maxwell says Acara helped her refine her idea by asking, “What is the value proposition?”

“Originally I thought I was going to be creating a new product but I realized I was not going to improve on what’s already out there,” says Maxwell.

Through interviewing hundreds of women, Maxell realized there is stigma attached to women’s intimate products and health. She decided what was needed was a safe place for conversations to take place and to make it easier for women to find the products that are already out there.

Maxwell says 30 women tested the menstrual cup and found that 80 percent of them wanted to continue using it. The Web business grew out of her desire to make women’s intimate health products easy to find and convenient to purchase. Equally beneficial is that menstrual cups are reusable, and increasing their use decreases waste from disposable hygiene products.

Through her participation in the Acara Challenge — a student competition in which Ova Woman took the domestic gold awar­d — Maxwell says she learned how to put together a pitch, make it compelling and tell a story. “For someone without a business background, it really helped me build up confidence. The judges believed in me and that really felt good.”

Carrying the slogan “For aspiring entrepreneurs who mean business,” the MN Cup is a program of the Carlson School and the largest statewide venture competition.

Photo by BraunS (iStock)

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