Goodbye period panic. Hello Dotstash. Destigmatizing the topic of menstruation, Dotstash imagines a world where menstruators feel supported, making comfortable organic menstrual products accessible in public spaces
The machine provides free menstrual products, as part of the Dotstash Student Ambassador Program, after finding it difficult to access menstrual products in public spaces.
In October, Governor Newsom signed AB367 into law which will require all 6-12 schools, as well as colleges and universities to provide free menstrual products on campuses by 2022-23 school year. Testing this theory in one of the harshest environments - high school and middle school - Founder Mona Powell is excited to change the conversation.
A first of a kind vending machine was unveiled at Torrey Pines High School this April.
What has been your experience with UC San Diego and its diverse entrepreneurial culture?
I’ve been a staff member with UC San Diego for 14 years! I think I’ve always had this entrepreneurial mind, a propensity to create to fix things. Luckily, I had avenues to be an intraprenuer during my time at UC San Diego, especially during my role as a Wellness & Engagement Programs Manager including the first large-scale zero waste event in San Diego and Tritons Tutor, a free virtual tutoring program that connects UCSD students with K-12 kids, targeting Title I schools.
“I really hope that the campus continues to foster and support creative minds by making it easier to innovate within the institution, said Powell.”
UC San Diego’s Office of Innovation and Commercialization’s Investment Prep program has been invaluable in building out the startup. It’s where I met David Loseke, who is now one of Dotstash’s Strategic Advisors. The Dotstash mission resonated with him because he has daughters, and he couldn’t believe what his daughters had to go through when they menstruated at school. Our biggest champions have been girl dads! I really hope that the campus continues to foster and support creative minds by making it easier to innovate within the institution.
What excites you about your work?
So much is exciting me about Dotstash. But right now watching what I created in the wild and having users experience it has been the best. Imagine what it would be like to be on your period while you are at school or work, and know that you can access comfortable products in the building. Dotstash is about reclaiming an experience that has sucked for far too long.
“Imagine what it would be like to be on your period while you are at school or work, and know that you can access comfortable products in the building,” said Powell. Dotstash is about reclaiming an experience that has sucked for far too long.”
Last week we had our ribbon cutting for the full Dotstash unit at Torrey Pines High School, there was so much excitement from the ambassadors. The brand and the Dotstash program is resonating with students and they are taking ownership and telling me how they want to take the program and make a difference at their schools and community.
Describe a typical day in Startupland. What does your day look like?
My condo is literally a startup house. Every room and my garage has startup related stuff. I do not have a TV or couch in my living room. Instead there are Dotstash units, test dispensers, tools, product photo setup, and boxes and boxes of products. But I always make time to restore my body and prioritize time with family and close friends.
When I’m working at my staff position on campus, I’m on the clock from 8 -4:30 pm. By 5 p.m. I'm back in Startupland. My first meetings usually start at 6 pm and don't usually end until 10 or 11 p.m. My team is all remote right now, so they are usually working meetings for operations, product development, and design. I also meet weekly with student ambassador groups as well as AB367 coalition meetings.
How do you define innovation in the 21st Century?
What I see ahead is incredible advancement in machine learning, where we have AI thinking and doing things for us that we would normally have to work harder to do. My hope is that in the midst of all that incredible tech advancement, we give space to allow for real meaningful human connection to thrive as well. In my humble opinion, I think that is just as important if not more important than machines predicting outcomes.
“My hope is that in the midst of all that incredible tech advancement, we give space to allow for real meaningful human connection to thrive as well," said Powell.
What role have mentors played in your success/journey?
I like to learn, so my mind is in a constant state of learning. I’ve had a lot of different mentors throughout my career, some formal and some informal. Even some of my students have been mentors on certain subjects like sustainability and social activism.
For Dotstash, I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the Investment Prep program with Mark Liebowitz, Paul Shockley, Shane Moise, and David Loseke. Mark and Paul continue to challenge me, and push me to do things that feel so out of my range. David has been a great sounding board, he’s been so helpful in connecting me with the individuals who can help during the early stage of the company. The people I've met at the Office of Innovation and Commercialization and Design Lab embody the spirit of what UC San Diego can be.
What are some of the biggest challenges you faced in the startup process? How were you able to overcome them?
Learning to restart again and again and again. Founding a startup is like this giant mountain that I’ve chosen to climb. If I’m lucky in a few years, maybe a decade, I’ll reach the summit. There isn’t a drawn out path for this journey. It’s hard. So the way I proceed is just to put one foot in front of the other, asking myself “what is the next best step here?” and then do that.
“There isn’t a drawn out path for this journey. It’s hard,” said Powell. “So the way I proceed is just put one foot in front of the other, asking myself ‘what is the next best step?’ and then do that.”
Expect to get blindsided constantly. Going back to the mountain reference, sometimes the winds shift, you lose your footing, and get kicked back down to the bottom of the mountain. Learn to get back up. I feel like founders are truly a different breed, they have a different mindset than the average person.
What advice would you give to a UC San Diego student thinking about starting a company?
Find people who are just as excited to build cool stuff with you and do it! Pay attention to your customer, everything should add value to their experience. Utilize the resources you have at UC San Diego, there are a lot and most people want to help you if you ask.