When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. At a time when the world is struggling to fight the deadly Coronavirus outbreak, entrepreneurs in India are wasting no time in taking action. Mumbai-based Saral Designs, a social startup that focuses on producing low-cost menstrual pads, is now collaborating with the Automotive team at Mahindra Group for producing three-ply surgical masks.
The tie-up is aimed at fast-racking the production process to aid the healthcare workers and medical who are at the frontline dealing with the life-threatening and fast-spreading COVID-19. The Mahindra Group is already working on other medical necessities such as ventilators too.
Saral Designs was founded by Suhani Mohan and Kartik Mehta in June 2015, in Dharavi, Mumbai. The startup aims to make sanitary pads affordable and accessible for women from low-income groups, by producing it locally. For this purpose, the startup has developed a manufacturing machine that will allow decentralised production at the same level of quality and performance as international brands.
We have successfully modified our sanitary pad making machine for producing 3ply surgical masks to fight #COVIDー19.With @MahindraRise, Saral's team has worked day & night to make this happen in less than a week. Production started Mahindra's Kandivali factory. #IndiaFightsCorona https://t.co/xn1HOJqXDw— Saral Designs (@saral_designs) April 2, 2020
Suhani was earlier working for Deustche Bank and Kartik had worked on machine design and development at General Motors and Neubauplan Design Studio. the duo decided to take a plunge into low-cost sanitary napkin industry when they realised that most of the napkin-manufacturing units were running into cash-flow issues due to insufficient scale and lack of demand (due to poor product quality.)
As India saw rising cases of COVID-19, Suhani and her co-founder felt the urge to work on mask-making machine. They had the bandwidth, and the technology used to make sanitary napkins were similar. Although the designs were ready by March 15, the nation-wide lockdown made it difficult to find vendors for manufacturing, and hence the duo decided to approach people who could help. Finally, Shruti Agarwal, the executive assistant to Anand Mahindra and Suhani's junior from IIT, Bombay, made this collaboration happen.
Suhani has said, “I have been writing to many people and was not sure if we’ll hear back. But within four hours, we got a reply and Anand connected us to the head of Mahindra automotive. They helped us in a big way to support with all the requirements. And within 100 hours after receiving that email, we were able to set up the manufacturing unit.”
Pawan K Goenka, the Managing Director of Mahindra Group shared the progress of the manufacturing process on Twitter, while Anand Mahindra, the chairman of Mahindra Group called the startup's journey a sequel to the Bollywood movie Padman (2018).
Young, idealistic entrepreneurs, who wanted to speedily convert their sanitary pad machine to surgical mask production ally with an auto company & succeed just 100 hours after the 1st correspondence. The future of business might be paved with such win-win alliances... https://t.co/mb8B0Y3Rsl— anand mahindra (@anandmahindra) April 3, 2020
Heroes continue to rise. @suhani is an IIT Bombay graduate who moved from banking to entrepreneurship & started making sanitary pads. She wanted to convert her machines to making masks & reached out to my Exec.asst. Shruti, her junior at IIT. A sequel to the movie ‘Padman!’ https://t.co/hCmB1RNXwB— anand mahindra (@anandmahindra) April 3, 2020
Currently, a day into production, they have produced 3000 and said they hope to ramp up to making 10,000 masks a day within 10 days. The masks are being distributed via Mahindra Group’s CSR wing to government hospitals, police and everyone who has to be on the field. After the mask production is successfully ramped up, they hope to distribute it to the general public as well.
Making a change
Saral Designs claims to have made India's first decentralized automatic machine to produce sanitary pads. So far, it has sold the machines to more than 30 entrepreneurs and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Tier-II and Tier III cities and impacted over 200,000 women by selling more than 6.5 million pads in five years. Their work was recognised with several accolades such as the National Entrepreneurship Award by the Ministry of skill development and Entrepreneurship and top global hardware innovation for social good by American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME i-show).
Saral Designs – recognised by NASSCOM as Maharashtra’s most innovative startup – has been funded by angel investors and international non-profit, Acumen.
(Edited by Athira Nair)