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Product tackles period poverty

Grandmother’s sanitary pitch wins startup prize

Celia Hodson 2

Celia Hodson: ‘It’s more important to make a difference’ (photo by Terry Murden)

A 57-year-old grandmother, who launched a social enterprise to help women tackle period poverty, has been named winner of a support scheme for startup companies.

Celia Hodson told a panel of judges how she struggled as a single parent to raise two daughters and make ends meet.

Her daily struggle with family finances meant having to make stark choices and dealing with the cost of such items as sanitary products.

After a lifetime of working for social enterprises, Ms Hodson decided to start one herself and launched Hey Girls to tackle the problem of access to sanitaryware.

For every box of sanitary towels bought, the company donates another to a woman in need. The free towels go to food banks and organisations such as the YWCA.

Since starting up in January with £15,000 of help from FirstPort and UnLtd, a lottery-funded charity, Dunbar-based Ms Hodson has sold £17,000 worth of products and donated 3,500 boxes.

She reckons she will make £80,000 this year and is planning for £200,000 next year. Hey Girls is now in talks with retailers, including supermarkets. Some councils are purchasing the product for schools, replacing other more expensive contracts with commercial brands.

The pads are made in China from bamboo and corn starch to ensure they are biodegradable and more natural than bleached cotton fibre products.

“This is the first time I have done anything like this,” she told Daily Business after receiving her prize of free mentoring and legal advice as winner of the Virgin Start-Up Scotland competition.

Celia with trophy and Bob Keiller (photo by Terry Murden)

Originally from Lancaster, she has lived in various places in the UK and overseas and now has two grandchildren “with another on the way”.

“Because I was bringing up my children as a single parent I experienced period poverty. It is not nice to bring up a family in those circumstances.

She said one in ten women across the UK and one in five in Scotland experience period poverty.

“While I was waiting for governments to shift gear on this and make products more accessible I decided to do something about it,” she said.

Ms Hodson, who spoke at the Investing Women conference on International Women’s Day, has written to consumer goods company Procter & Gamble inviting it to develop a similar product, even if it means she loses her position in the market.

“It is more important to make a difference. I am not doing this to make a big salary but because there is a need for it,” she said.

“If the big companies can do this and help women’s lives then that’s okay by me.”

Ten finalists were recognised as Virgin StartUp’s 10 Scottish ambassadors and it is understood that the judges were divided between Hey Girls and Sustainability which also supports charitable causes:

Arbnco – a building simulation company working with Scottish academia to reduce Co2 emissions

CogniHealth – improving the quality of life of all those affected by dementia by developing products that provide personalised and targeted information and solutions

Esker Spirits – an artisan gin distillery producing multi-award winning spirits that deliver a real taste experience

Good-Loop – an ethical ad-choice alternative to ad-blocking

Hey Girls – a Buy One Give One sanitary social enterprise that is tackling Period Poverty in the UK

Highland Wireless & IT Solutions Ltd – provides superfast broadband to rural and poor internet connectivity areas

Paulin – a multi-disciplinary design studio creating and retailing watches and accessories globally

Pixey – an online marketplace for finding, and licensing, real-time Instagram images and video

Revive Eco – a waste rejuvenation eco-prise, extracting high value oils and creating a soil conditioner from used coffee grounds

Sustainability – allowing customers to give to causes they care about every day by rounding up cashless transactions to the nearest £1 every time you shop

Andrew Hutchison, head of strategy for Virgin Startup, said: “We had over 100 entries from start-up businesses and entrepreneurs across Scotland, which was a fantastic response.

“Our aim for the campaign is to showcase to as many entrepreneurs as possible that running your own business is achievable for anyone, regardless of age, education, upbringing or passion.”

The panelists were:

· Jackie Waring – the founder & CEO of Investing Women and leader of Scotland’s only all-female business angel group

· Leah Hutcheon – the founder and CEO of Appointedd, an Edinburgh-based tech company revolutionising the way bookings are made online

· Bob Keiller  – Chairman of Scottish Enterprise

· Callum Stuart – co-founder of Mallzee, the multi-retailer shopping app

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