From the United States to the Netherlands. With the help of the Startup Visa program, Phia set up shop in Groningen and recently launched its first feminine product in a market that hasn’t changed much in almost a century. Phia founder Sophia Peterson talks about innovation in a conservative market, her experiences so far, breaking the stigma and future plans.
Ever since the introduction of the modern tampon in 1933, the market for feminine hygiene products has offered little in the way of new alternatives. That’s something Sophia wanted to change and started Phia, a sustainable menstrual product startup committed to making innovative eco-friendly products. The startup recently launched Phia Cup, a new type of menstrual cup that’s easy to use and lasts for years.
How did you come up with the idea for the Phia Cup?
“I’ve always had an interest in sustainable products and design was kind of a hobby I did on the side. When I was in Budapest in 2015, a friend introduced me to menstrual cups, which I thought was a really great sustainable alternative. Half of the world’s population experiences periods and the majority of menstrual products are single use, combined with the excessive amount of packaging, it just creates so much needless waste. And then there’s also all of the resources and chemicals needed for production.”
“The menstrual cup has been around for ages, but they’re not as easy to use as tampons. Many women I talked to wanted to make the switch to an environmentally friendly alternative, but they’re a little scared it might be hard to use. So I wanted to design one that came as close as possible to the application of a tampon. I sketched up a couple of ideas in Budapest and continued designing and prototyping it when I got back to the US. I made a 3D print first and then I created a silicone mold. It was just kind of for fun at first and then it really went somewhere, so I wanted to see how far I would get in really making it and setting it up as a company.”
Why did you choose Groningen to start your business?
“I thought a smaller country like the Netherlands would be a good market to test the product. I met with a couple of Startup Visa facilitators and ended up in Groningen, because Campus Groningen, one of the facilitators here, had a big focus on health and sustainability and that was something that I really liked and was perfect for my industry.”
Did COVID impact things for you?
“Yeah, a lot actually. I came over here about maybe a week before things got serious I thought I was going to be working in an office or coworking space and of course that didn’t work out, because everyone had to work from home. So that also made it a lot harder to network with people and find the right suppliers, and it just took a lot longer to do all of that.”
Any milestones you're particularly proud of?
“Bringing it to the market was the biggest accomplishment. Especially with COVID, there were a lot of delays. But also something I didn’t expect was the community I was able to bring together through my testers. It’s been tested by over a hundred women so far and so many testers told me it changed their lives, which is really the greatest feedback you can ever hope to hear.”
As a female founder, is it difficult to launch a product that’s still somewhat surrounded by stigma in a market that’s anything but innovative?
“It can be difficult, also because product manufacturing is a male dominated industry. But I guess I met all the right people, so for me, it wasn’t really a problem. A lot of people don’t talk about periods openly, so that’s why I also started a blog on the website and posted about taboo topics on social media. It allows people to openly discuss these things and share their experiences with each other.”
Any plans for the future?
“I’m currently busy with the launch here in the Netherlands and then the rest of Europe,with plans to launch in the U.S. as well in 2022. As for other products, I’m currently working on new ideas for future products. But I think the next product will be something complementary to the cup, like a device to clean the cup between uses. I’m trying to come up with ways to design a device that can boil or sanitize the cup and I think that will ultimately be a great addition.”