By Lisa Daffy
“Has anybody ever seen Tom Brady look down at his pants in the middle of a game to see if his tampon is leaking?” The answer, of course, is no, and that is exactly the point, explained Amanda Calabrese. She and her partner, Greta Meyer, use that question to begin talks to potential investors for Tempo, a no-leakage guaranteed tampon they designed specifically for high-performance athletes. “Unless we’re in a room full of Patriots fans, it’s generally well-received,” she laughs.
In any room, the line gets attention, as it brings front and center a topic that is generally left undiscussed. As much as the international sports community has come to celebrate the achievements of female athletes, the issue of menstruation remains taboo, something to be politely ignored. But for women, ignoring their monthly periods isn’t an option.
“We’ve spoken to so many female athletes, and we hear this story over and over,” said Ms. Calabrese. “You’ve got a woman playing club sports, in front of college recruiters. She’s in the middle of a 90-minute game, and her tampon leaks on her white uniform. She has to get out of the game to take care of it. She’s out of the game for seven minutes and that’s seven minutes she’s not in front of a college recruiter, seven minutes that’s putting her $250,000 scholarship on the line.”
Ms. Calabrese, who grew up in East Hampton, and Ms. Meyer graduated in June from Stanford University. They are both very familiar with the world of competitive sports. Ms. Meyer is a former Division 1 lacrosse player, and Ms. Calabrese was an All-World lifeguard competitor, winning four straight national titles in the beach flags event at the United States Lifeguard Association National. She was also the head instructor and co-founder of Eastern Long Island’s first all-girls surf camp with the Montauk Boardriders.
“We’ve been together in the product design engineering major forthe past four years, and last fall we took a class where we were given the opportunity to explore starting our own company,” said Ms. Calabrese. “Greta said, ‘how do you feel about working in feminine hygiene?’ So we developed a business plan and pitched our idea to investors who were invited into the class for our final presentation, and they were over the moon.”
The women were encouraged to pursue their idea further by participating in Launchpad, a business accelerator program offered through the Stanford Design School. They were one of the first undergraduate teams accepted to participate in the program.
“That was really exciting,” said Meyer. “It was a very intense learning experience with two entrepreneurship experts. They take you through these exercises for 10 weeks that get you set to go full-time or figure out that your business is not viable.” The program convinced them that their idea was viable.
“Greta and I are creating a product that essentially guarantees no leakage,” explained Calabrese. “We studied the fluid mechanics of the classic tampon, which hasn’t really changed since it was introduced in 1931. The threads in classic tampons run vertically, so liquid flows straight downward, allowing leakage even before the product’s capacity is reached. Our patent-pending design reorients the threads in a helix shape. It’s eight and a half times slower to leak than the leading product in America.”
A third classmate, Elijah Zenger, was a crucial part of the formation of the company and the product design. While he’s no longer involved with Tempo on a day-to-day basis, he remains attached in an advisory role, and his former partners credit him as a key part of their initial success in launching the company.
Right now, Tempo’s founders are immersed in StartX, the Accelerator of Stanford Affiliated companies, where they’re working in the student-in-residence program. StartX provides young entrepreneurs with office space and programming targeted at helping them jump-start their businesses. They also received the Robert Howard Next Step Award from the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign, Stanford’s graduate program for innovation in biotech and medtech. That award comes with 200 hours of complimentary consulting from McKinsey Design.
Ms. Calabrese and Ms. Meyer hope to launch their first Tempo product in England this fall, where it will be available via subscription, as befits these digital natives. “In the UK, tampons fall under consumer goods regulation, not federal drug regulation like they do here,” said Ms. Calabrese. “That makes it much quicker to get a product to market. The best manufacturing option we found is in the UK also, both because of their experience and ease of distribution there. We would definitely explore producing in the US when we scale up.”
The biggest hurdle facing Tempo now is financial. “If you look at venture capital, only two percent of the funding goes to women right now,” said Ms. Meyer. “We’re looking at having a female angel investor, someone who would really understand this product and the need for it, and who could champion it. That said, we’ve been delightfully surprised at the reception we’ve gotten from male investors. A lot of them have been very enthusiastic and seem really comfortable talking about these issues that have always been taboo.”
Women in sports may have been the prime driver behind Tempo, but a leak-proof tampon would benefit women in all walks of life. “When you have your period, that’s what you’re thinking about all day,” said Ms. Calabrese. “Professional women tell us that when they’re on their period, they try to schedule events x number of hours apart so they have time to take care of their personal needs between meetings. You’re in a room full of men, and you’re afraid to stand up after a long meeting. The peace of mind this product provides is a huge asset.”
Learn more about Tempo at www.thisistempo.com or email Ms. Calabrese at email@example.com