In 2018 Alison Wood from Edinburgh was our Challenge Winner, using support from Unloc to launch Lilypads, a social aware business which sells re-usable sanitary products in both the UK and Kenya, with the sales of products in the UK subsidising the Kenyan market.
Alison won £5,000 of funding, a mentorship package and a technology bundle to help get Lilypads off the ground.
For more information about Lilypads and all their fantastic work to help young women across the world click here!
Alison, tell us how Lilypads came about?
“My business partner Mhairi and I started Lilypads out of sheer frustration really. We’d learnt that school girls in Kenya were exchanging sex fo period pads, because they couldn’t afford them and were desperate to stay in school while on their period. The HIV rate in Kenya is rising among the female teenage population as well as pregnancies, something really needed to be done. We couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a better solution so we became determined to BE the solution. This remains at the heart of everything we do. It is the reason we get up in the morning.”
So how did you hear about the Young Entrepreneurs Challenge?
“I remember starting to work on the business and getting through lots of personalised ads, one of these was for the (then named) Unloc Young Enterprise Challenge. I took one look and thought ‘there was no way we could win £5,000 for our idea – we surely didn’t have enough validation or traction!’ But I thought we should give it a go.”
“I shot a 3 minute video in a park with virtually no editing- it was very rough and ready! But we sent it in, not expecting to heart back. I couldn’t believe it when we got confirmation we were through to the finals. Down to London we went, and met with Hayden and the other finalists. I honestly thought we were just pitching to a panel and the other competitors in a room, so I didn’t expect a swanky event!”
“Due to family circumstances I’d not done nearly enough prep and spent the hour before the pitch trying to memorise notes I had made on the train journey down and trying not to panic! We pitched… I survived! Sat down and thought ‘there is no way I am pitching ever again.’ I honestly didn’t think there was any chance we would win.”
“Waiting for the results, I talked with the other finalists who were all incredible. I mean I still remember most of their pitches because I was amazed at how. fantastic the ideas were. The winners were announced and I remember sitting there clapping, assuming it must be for someone else until I realised everyone was looking at me – as we had just been announced as the winner!”
How did that feel?
“I was absolutely stunned. That was the first large competition we won. £5,000 was an incredible amount of money to us at that time, and it was insane to know that the panel believed in our idea and that we could pull it off. That in itself was such an incredible boost of energy and motivation, to get that recognition and support. The money from the award meant we could complete some of the production runs that we really need to do in Kenya with the aim of getting product feedback and of reducing the cost to manufacture.. The award has allowed us to complete this research, to ensure that the product we have today does actually fit with the community’s needs which is absolutely vital.”
How did you find the overall experience?
“The experience was a really good and fun one to have. It gave me and the team a great boost of confidence. Although I vowed to never pitch again we have not been successful in dozens of pitches, and most importantly it has taught me never to pitch in heels again!”
So since you won, have you faced many challenges?
“Starting a business straight from University has been really challenging. Learning what feels like hundreds of new skills in a short space of time, and working at 1000 miles an hour can be exhausting, especially when there is uncertainty about the future. It’s definitely our passion for the mission which keeps us focused, but we still have days where we feel overwhelmed at times.”
“As two female founders running a period product business we’ve also faced some personal challenges. Stigma around periods, dismissal of our capabilities, and learning to believe in ourselves in rooms where we were the only women have been some of the barriers we have been working to overcome. However, we keep fighting because we hope that we can help other women feel confident in their abilities.”
Much like Unloc, we hear that you now run your own education programme?
“We do! Our education programme is not only about periods and puberty, it aims to challenge stereotypes, challenge toxic masculinity, and empower women. We want to encourage young women to speak up in class, to apply for the course they think they aren’t skilled enough for, to see their own worth. Our personal challenges are intrinsically linked to what we hope to do as a company – challenge gender inequality as a whole.”
What do you think is the biggest achievement you’ve had since this journey began?
“Such a simple thing, but such a vital one – confidence! To feel confident in our own abilities and believe we can do it. It’s an ongoing journey, some days you can feel like you’re making a difference, and others, you forget the impact you’re having, you forget to believe in yourself. That’s our battle., to get rid of that inner self-saboteur! Embracing spending time on personal development and coaching has really helped us with that. As a team we read books on leadership and emotional intelligence, we challenge and support each other and ourselves to keep striving, and to believe in the end goal, the impact and life changing effect that our work achieves.”
What Alison has achieved with Lilypads is a great example of the power of self-belief. She has all the attributes of a young changemaker in action, one who is really striving to improve society – on an international scale. Keep doing what you’re doing!
Click here to visit the Lilypads website and find out more about their work.
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