On Dec. 8, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama and the Alabama Power Foundation will host the finale for the latest Alabama Launchpad competition for startup companies. This round of the Launchpad is focused on companies intent on making a positive impact in the community. Ten finalists are competing for a combined $75,000 in funding.
In this article, the last in the five-part series, we highlight Alabama-based finalists Monthly and Smart Solutions.
It’s an issue some women struggle with every month: dealing with the high costs of their monthly cycle.
For Aiko Pickering, the issue resonated with her personally, and then evolved into a mission-driven business: providing an affordable, sustainable, women’s period product.
Pickering learned that period poverty and period equity are real problems in the South. From that knowledge, and her concern for women, she decided to create a “period project,” that morphed into Monthly.
“It’s a culmination of a lot of things,” said Pickering, 28, who graduated from Spring Hill College in Mobile in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and English and a minor in gender studies.
“I always had an interest in equity. It was four years ago where I was introduced to that idea of what period poverty is and period equity, and really latching onto those ideas, I decided to start a charity project,” Pickering said.
“But, if you know about nonprofits, it’s sometimes hard to maintain donations to keep things like that running,” she added. When funding for the nonprofit lagged, Pickering wondered how to create something that would fill a need in the market while also giving back.
That’s how she came up with her business, to sell affordable underwear, “so more people can access a sustainable product that feels good to your body,” she said. An equally important component, Pickering noted, was donating 10% of profits to Southern charities that fight period poverty and advocate for menstrual equity.
What makes Monthly’s period underwear special is the highly absorbent gusset, which uses a four-layer technology with materials made of recycled spandex and Tencel™. The wearer saves money because they don’t have to buy as many pads or tampons.
“You can wash them and use them over and over again, which is the really cool part … these are really durable fabrics, and I spoke to somebody recently and they had been using the same period underwear for 10 years. They do have a long lifetime,” she said.
Pickering is confident that customers can use the product for years, without having to replace a pair. Monthly offers two styles: a boxer/brief for $25 and a Tiki cut at $22, in black or matcha, a green and ivory checkerboard pattern.
Monthly went viral on TikTok on Sept. 1, 2022. The company has since built a community of about 20,000 people and has received numerous comments demonstrating excitement for the product, Pickering said.
“They are super comfortable; everybody that has beta-tested them have really enjoyed them, which I think is amazing, because we’ve had to make do with, you know, not the most comfortable products for many, many years,” Pickering said.
“I think it’s amazing that companies like mine and other ones are challenging – that we don’t have to just ‘make do’ with what’s on the market. We can have stuff that’s better, that’s more comfortable, that can be used over and over again and save you thousands of dollars in a lifetime.”
Pickering’s donation of 10% of the company’s profits are directed to charities that help provide supplies to women who can’t afford them. Learn more at shopmonthly.co and on TikTok @shop.monthly.
Kevin Braswell, CEO of Smart Solutions, speaks from experience about the challenges people with physical disabilities face using home technologies that are not designed with them in mind. Having the right technology, he said, can be a game-changer in allowing a person with disabilities to be able to stay in their home and enjoy a better quality of life.
“It’s all about using technology and fostering a sense of pride and dignity,” Braswell said.
As a child Braswell suffered a brain hemorrhage, and he remembers how, while recovering at home, he had to ask for help to change the TV channel (it was the days before remote controls). Decades later, he had a flashback to that time when he suffered another stroke. It led to a “lightbulb moment” – he realized his smart home technology company could address an important need, and meet a higher calling, by repurposing home automation systems for individuals with disabilities.
“Our company, Smart Solutions, promotes independent living using smart home technology. We are a partner, creating a pathway to autonomy,” Braswell wrote in his Alabama Launchpad application. His is one of five early seed-stage companies competing for $50,000 in the competition.
He describes the company’s home-based product – which goes by the name “Simply Smart” – as “person-centric assistive technology software” that empowers people with disabilities to have greater control over their homes.
The Simply Smart application allows users to choose among a range of access methods depending on their disability, including touch or voice activation, switch-scanning or eye-tracking. The software works across all operating system platforms and can be installed on a client’s existing phone or tablet, which is another benefit compared to the company’s competitors, Braswell said. Smart Solutions also provides installation and service, creating a “seamless experience for our users.”
In the future, Braswell envisions expanding the technology’s capabilities so it can monitor a person’s health and track key indicators, such as weight and blood pressure, and send the data directly to health professionals and insurance providers. The goal: to help keep users healthier while cutting through medical paperwork and reducing health-related costs.
“Our overreaching goal is to transform the long-term care model using technology supports,” Braswell said.
Learn more about Smart Solutions at mysmartsolutions.com.
The finale for the Alabama Launchpad Social Impact Competition takes place at 5 p.m. Dec. 8 in the Pearl River Room at Regions Field, 1401 First Ave. S. in downtown Birmingham. The event is open to the public but attendance is limited. To secure a seat, please register here.
To learn more about Alabama Launchpad, click here. To learn more about the Alabama Power Foundation, visit powerofgood.com.