Have you been experimenting with the development of a radically innovative menstrual product design that is also discrete to use and environmentally sustainable? 

Does it not require clean water for cleaning and/or result in waste? 

And can you describe a viable path towards developing a prototype of it, and a scalable manufacturing process for producing it?

If the answers to all of the above questions are yes, you may want to explore the possibility of applying to the latest round of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Grand Challenges Explorations” grant competition.

Awards include up to $100,000 USD in the initial round, with potential to apply for up to $1,000,000 USD of funding in a second phase of the competition.  Proposals are due on April 22, 2020 at 11:30 U.S. Pacific Time, and awards are typically granted within five months of submission.  See the application instructions, tips for applicants, and the official rules of the program for more information.

Some exclusions that IMHER noted while looking over the materials include:

  • Menstrual cups (excluded on the basis that they require clean water for cleaning.)
  • Disposable pads (excluded on the basis that they involve waste; no differentiation seemed to be addressed for biodegradable or compostable pads, but that may be worth contacting the program to confirm.)
  • Educational programs, delivery mechanisms, stigma reduction efforts, and/or WASH infrastructure (excluded on the basis that it needs to be a technological solution for innovations in new menstrual products.)

With respect to likely affordability for women, low expected cost of goods sold is one of the goals for this grant.  However, higher-cost products were not specifically excluded from consideration; instead, the language of the call suggests that the anticipated cost will be weighed against the degree of innovation, discretion, and sustainability involved.

As with all funding programs, be sure to read all aspects of the rules and the funding agreement carefully for yourself to confirm the above, and to make sure that your interests are adequately protected if you apply.  For example, some conditions of funding for this particular grant include guarantees to provide “Global Access” to your product according to specific regulations, and the release of data and research associated with the product through open-access sources. 

As always, if you are not sure if your proposal might qualify for the funding, IMHER strongly recommends applying anyway. A growing body of research has been demonstrating that women too often take themselves out of the running for achievements, whereas their male peers tend to reap the benefits of throwing their hat into the ring, even with fewer qualifications. This is also seems to be a fairly modest application process compared to many grants of this size, so if your product is not explicitly excluded from the competition – and if you are willing to agree with the conditions of the funding – consider giving it a try.