Nature’s Gift wins CECAS Spark Challenge

A Clemson University student and recent graduate are developing a reusable tampon applicator they said will be cheaper and more comfortable to use than its competitors and help keep waste out of landfills.

Claudia Sisk and Marissa Jansen won $2,500 after their product, Nature’s Gift, took first place in this year’s CECAS Spark Challenge, an annual competition sponsored by Clemson’s College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.

Nature’s Gift would include an insertion sheath and rod made of hygienic material. The product would cost $25 and come in two sizes to accommodate cotton inserts with various levels of absorbency, ranging from light to ultra.

About 7 billion tampons and their applicators are thrown out every year in the United States, and Nature’s Gift would be aimed at helping reduce waste, Sisk and Jansen said.

Each device would last about two years, bringing its average monthly cost to about $1.04. The cotton inserts, sold separately, would run another $3.50 a month.

Nature’s Gift customers could expect to spend a grand total of $4.54 a month on menstrual health products, Sisk and Jansen said. The average woman now spends $159 a year, or $13.25 a month, they said.

Claudia Sisk, left, and Marissa Jansen are trying to take their reusable tampon applicator to market.

The team is targeting anyone who menstruates, especially young women who are concerned with their ecological footprint.

In the CECAS Spark Challenge, student teams work with mentors to develop a product and then build a business plan to bring it to market. Each team selected for the competition gets $500 in seed money.

Teams pitch their ideas to a panel of judges each spring. The challenge is organized by John DesJardins, the Robert B. and Susan B. Hambright Leadership Professor of Bioengineering and CECAS faculty director for entrepreneurship.

“The competition hits so many of the high points we emphasize in the college,” DesJardins said. “It teaches entrepreneurship and how to work across disciplines. This year’s winning project underscored the importance of having underrepresented voices at the table. I congratulate Claudia and Marissa on their well-deserved victory.”

The idea for Nature’s Gift came out of the Homeless Period Project, a national nonprofit that provides menstrual products to people in need. Jansen was a co-founder, and Sisk was a member.

Sisk, a bioengineering major, will be a senior in the fall, and Jansen received her Bachelor of Science in health science this month. Their advisor on Nature’s Gift was Sarah Harcum, a professor of bioengineering.

Nature’s Gift was selected to represent Clemson University in the 2021 ACC InventurePrize Competition, and competed in March against entrepreneurial teams from across the ACC.

Sisk and Jansen plan to go out for dinner with some of the prize money from the CECAS Spark Challenge and use the rest to figure out what comes next for their business.

“We’ve been thankful to get a lot of feedback and a lot of positive critiques about how we could make this a reality,” Sisk said.

Next steps will include developing a prototype and applying for a provisional patent, Jansen said.

“Finding a design and getting it patented– if we can get it through that hurdle, I think we’ll have a really good shot at taking it further,” she said.

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