Social innovation inspires serial entrepreneur and BCIT alumna Madeleine Shaw

Have you ever used phrases like “crimson wave”, “Aunt Flow”, “Code Red” or “time of the month” to describe menstruation? This euphemization (there are 5,000+ euphemisms according to a recent study) is symptomatic of a society’s discomfort with the topic. But times are changing, thanks to social innovators like BCIT alumna Madeleine Shaw, co-founder of Lunapads, which manufactures reusable menstrual products. (Madeleine is pictured here at G Day Vancouver 2015; photo credit: Wendy D.)

“Talking to people about menstrual products is not like talking to them about winter tires for your car,” she says. “They are socially challenging products to market.”

Madeleine herself used disposable products for years before realizing she was allergic to them. Seeking to solve her own problem and with a background in textiles and design, she smartly created a washable, sustainable cloth menstrual pad, the first Lunapad. When she ceased getting rashes, she says it changed the way she felt about her body and her period. “I wished everyone could feel this liberated, knowledgeable and self-accepting. That’s when it went from simply solving my own need to a business idea.”

Making her idea a reality

She enrolled in BCIT’s then-called Venture Program to find the business guidance she needed to launch Lunapads.  Madeleine says, “I have a BA in liberal arts, and had no business experience and no business education. That’s why I went to BCIT. For me, the ‘why’ was clear but the ‘how’ was not. BCIT gave me the ‘how’.”

From helping her write a comprehensive business plan that included finances, sales channels and marketing strategy to giving her an instant network of people who gave her valuable feedback and support, the Venture Program was key to getting her business started. It also connected her with BCIT mentors, Ken Takeuchi and the late Peter Thomson, whom she says were both her earliest champions.

What is Madeleine working on now?

Since then, Madeleine has launched two more initiatives that, as Lunapads does, challenge social norms and offer alternatives: G Day and Nestworks.

While the beginnings of G Day first came to her as a young girl excitedly entering adolescence, it wasn’t until Madeleine’s own daughter was heading into adolescence that she created G Day.

G Day is a social movement that is designed to empower, celebrate and support girls as they enter adolescence. Through community events, G Day strives to connect girls and their champions to welcome, witness and receive girls as they enter the next phase in their lives. Since 2014, G Day events have been held and warmly received in Victoria, Vancouver and Toronto. Upcoming events include Vancouver on May 7, 2018 and Toronto on October 14, 2018.

Nestworks is Madeleine’s newest project that seeks to reimagine work-life balance. “What if work and life were more integrated? What would happen if parents could bring their kids to work with them? What if it were multi-generational, including seniors too? We might see positive impact on mental health and social innovation,” she explains. She hopes a working prototype for Nestworks will be developed within the next year.

One–let alone three–successful entrepreneurial endeavour would be enough for most, but with someone as creative as Madeleine, more is probably on the horizon. What’s her motivation?

“I am a feminist and an entrepreneur who is driven by social impact,” she emphasizes. “For the women out there who want to start their own business, don’t be afraid to share your ideas. Find mentors and supporters because they can help you make your ideas even better. This is your life and your work should be an expression of your creativity.”

Learn more about BCIT’s Peter Thomson Centre for Venture Development.

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