Women entrepreneurs re-educate the narrative
For generations, the classic American business tale from Hollywood studios has shed light on stereotypical male sensibilities, hunches, and the perceived courage to succeed. Hollywood may have created the shiny version of life by imitating art, but the residue has long-lasting impacts on many female entrepreneurs who are striving to break through independently and without excuses.
Women have continuously fought for a level playing field. Yet even in the wake of successful female CEOs and entrepreneurs, a recent Forbes article indicates that many are hailing the end of the so-called “Girlboss” era once and for all.
The problem is that a female executive and entrepreneur is consistently spotlighted as a hit and miss woman in an unbalanced way compared to her male counterparts. As a result, many women find themselves struggling with an image they did not shape.
According to Kristen Syrett, professor of linguistics at Rutgers University, “It reminds everyone that there is a style of being a boss: that there is being a boss and then there is the boss girl. And no matter how hard you work, you’re still a girl, you’re a girl in a man’s world.
This man’s world-shaping, underpinned by subtle, decades-old media stereotypes, is being eroded by each new female enterprise that begins, grows, and collectively changes the narrative. With collaborative efforts and mindful adaptations, gender could finally take a back seat in the professional conversations of the future.
Part of the related effort is in education and opportunities on global fronts, such as the from the World Bank Resource point for women’s entrepreneurship dealing with learning and financing opportunities. The World Bank reports that the number of women running their own businesses is growing, contributing $3 trillion to the global economy. However, women continue to face enormous obstacles that affect their businesses, including a lack of capital, strict social constraints, and limited time and skill acquisition for some.
Changing the gender narrative is a global entrepreneurial endeavor often driven by women finding solutions to their specific needs. For example, according to a Entrepreneur article on women entrepreneurs addressing exclusively women’s issues, ventures launched in the area of women’s hygiene and well-being often take place because they recognize issues more directly and can relate to shared experiences.
For some women, these needs go beyond gender, emphasizing environmental concerns and sustainability concepts that increase the awareness and importance of their products.
One such person is Shallan Ramsey, CEO, Founder and Inventor of MaskIT, a disposable menstrual hygiene bag that uses premium plant-based biofilm for practical applications not found in the market. Among many accolades, Ramsey was named “Top 13 Mindful Brands Making a Difference in 2022” in Success! Magazine, and is the recipient of the Tom Holce Game Changer Entrepreneurship Award.
Its product is deliberately made in the USA with the idea of employment support for local families. Added to his conscience is the desire to avoid certain relaxed environmental policies that increase carbon emissions with overseas shipping models.
Below are excerpts from a very insightful and informative interview about how a single mother of three found the time and energy to subtly build an empire based on the practical needs of women and the concerns of the world.
Impulse for the product
Rod Berger: Tell us about what led you to come up with the idea for MaskIT?
Shalan Ramsey: Looking back, every job I had helped give me the skills I needed to be a business owner and entrepreneur. But for me, it was above all a necessity. Wasted paper, plumbing problems and unsanitary environments from home to hospital and public restrooms indicated a significant problem that needed to be addressed.
Why can’t there be something for tampon removal that could be placed on your hand and inverted to contain everything and seal it? So, I started creating prototypes. I searched online for disposal bags and ordered them all. But there was nothing there that even came close to what I wanted.
Various forms of paper and plastic bags existed, which I think the men must have thought of as they looked like repurposed popcorn bags.
When you take a menstrual tampon out, it’s sticky on one side, making it nearly impossible to put it inside a plastic paper bag without it sticking. Nothing lived up to my expectations, so I started some market research and learned that 20 billion tampons and pads end up in US landfills every year.
In my mind, I knew I needed a soft, flexible wrap that could quickly reverse, seal, lock in odors, and not leak. But I wasn’t going to do anything with my idea unless I found an environmentally friendly way to achieve my goals. I didn’t want to contribute to the 20 billion single-use plastics that end up in landfills every year.
I worked on my technical drawings and writings for a patent and designed prototypes by hand. I spent about six months researching all types of flexible film and learned more about plastics than I ever wanted to.
I asked about biodegradable plastics and figured out that some companies use oxo-degradable plastics with a chemical additive in the polyethylene to break down faster, causing smaller fragments that remain for up to 1000 years.
After six months of extensive research, I finally found a 100% plant-based biofilm for the product. Technically, the film is certified compostable, but we do not market the product that way. But for me, it was peace of mind because I wasn’t adding to the problem.
Shepherd: Tell us the story of how the product went from concept to manufacturing.
Ramsey: Finding plant-based biofilm made me feel good and I knew how big the market could be. However, I also knew that 95% of startups fail and the odds were stacked against me.
Why not me, I thought. Time flies anyway, so might as well try. It was my attitude.
I wanted to continue manufacturing in the United States. I thought that if my idea benefited an economy, it should be mine. Of course, keeping everything in the United States is complicated, but I was determined to find someone in the United States
Finding a manufacturer was a long process of NDA and exploration. I was told “no” about 100 times but kept trying. Finally, a year after I dropped off my model, a gentleman from Southern California called me, ready to give it a try.
I was delighted and sent him the biofilm, the drawings and the videos. He gave it a try. I arrived at his establishment delighted to see the creation, but some parts of the design did not work for one-handed inversion and sealing. I was devastated and felt bad for the time he spent.
Disheartened, I picked up one of the samples with a slight manufacturing defect in the bottom gusset. I asked if the offset could be enlarged and systematically duplicated. The manufacturer said the machinist would arrive in the morning and see if it could be done.
Miraculously, the machinist custom made a subassembly for his machine to create the gusset error consistently and larger. The trial worked and MaskIT was born.
Launch and growth
Shepherd: While manufacturing is in full swing, what was the environment like when it was initially launched and how has MaskIt grown in recent years.
Ramsey: It went direct-to-consumer in October 2014, launched on Amazon with an additional wall-mounted dispenser with the help of angel investors by 2016 to exist in public restrooms.
The glove-like appearance of MaskIT can eliminate blood contamination from touchpoints in the toilet as everything is sealed inside in its individual bag. This protects custodial staff and people are less tempted to flush the toilet, which prevents plumbing problems.
We knew we could be in all domestic and public toilets, but we had to start somewhere in terms of public facilities. So we focused on airports because we knew they had unique issues with people getting off planes and using the restroom at the same time. We also reached out to universities because of their high demographics of menstruating women. And finally, we found that Fortune 500 companies recognize the value this represents for their employees.
Fast forward to today, we are present in over 75 airports across the country, 100 universities and colleges, and several large Fortune 500 companies.
Absorb external factors
Shepherd: Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on so many businesses. How did you weather the storm and position yourself for the future?
Ramsey: When Covid-19 arrived, schools closed, employees and students were sent home, public facilities were abandoned and the model of public restrooms obviously took a hit. The good news is that we had established a pretty good repeat order base, and it’s a real blessing that we have so many markets where the product is applicable.
I was understandably very nervous, but direct-to-consumer sales had grown independently without spending on marketing or advertising. He was incredibly resilient.
In 2020, we saw the direct-to-consumer take off. Further expansion took place in 2021 and momentum is building in 2022. The solutions side of public restrooms has returned, and with all the direct-to-consumer growth, we are well positioned for this to be the next. year that we are really taking to a standstill. We have basically started and we are very excited about the next phase.
Shallan Ramsey may officially be the founder of MaskIT, but it’s fair to say that she represents, more broadly, a new generation of unapologetic entrepreneurs focused on innovations to serve their fellow human beings. She and others involved in alternative solutions to feminine hygiene and wellness recognize issues with a common mindset to make improvements for all.
Like so many successful women in business, one day, hopefully soon, the idea of gender will be lost in the discussion of describing success stories. Soon, when we hear about their exploits, we may simply reply: “Entrepreneur and game-changer”.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.