New Zealand’s construction industry has a period problem

CycleMate is a social enterprise working toward improving the quality of life of menstruating construction industry workers by making sanitary care more accessible.

The average university group assignment doesn’t usually inspire a potentially life-changing social enterprise. But that’s exactly how the story behind Amanda Rauner and Rebecca Clapp’s venture CycleMate begins: in a classroom.

The entrepreneurial pair, both in their final year of a BCom degree (majoring in Marketing and Innovation & Entrepreneurship), came up with an idea for a sanitary disposal product for the group assignment component of their Innovent 310: Women in Entrepreneurship course. They had identified that inadequate sanitary facilities on construction sites posed a real problem for menstruating tradeswomen. The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment stated in 2022 that there were 48,300 women construction workers in New Zealand, and the number is growing. “Despite projections anticipating women will make up 40% of the construction workforce by 2040, a cultural barrier surrounding period care for menstruating tradies remains across companies,” observes Amanda. As part of the assessment, they had to pitch their idea to a panel of judges, including course convenor Professor Chris Woods – and topped the class. “This was pivotal in building confidence in our idea,” she says.

As the Director of the University of Auckland’s Aotearoa Centre for Enterprising Women, Professor Woods was quick to recognise the potential in both the proposal and in the two young women themselves. “Both were clear about the overall purpose of the opportunity, and willing to listen and take on feedback,” she recalls. She encouraged the pair to submit their idea to the Velocity Ideas Challenge delivered by the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). Although they weren’t successful in this competition, they were given constructive feedback to develop their venture, and with Professor Woods’s encouragement, they then entered CIE’s Velocity $100K Challenge – “to see where it would lead us,” says Amanda. What it led to was clear validation of their concept: they won third prize, taking home $5,000 of seed capital.

Even more valuable than the capital, however, was the Velocity experience; the process provided some essential lessons for the novice entrepreneurs, including the importance of trusting themselves and the power of networking. “New Zealand’s small ecosystem can be extremely valuable and worth taking advantage of,” notes Rebecca. However, the key takeaway was the necessity of being open to feedback. “We are constantly learning, and value as much feedback as possible,” she says.

This feedback encouraged them to refine their original concept to deliver a more effective solution. “The CycleMate product began as a portable sanitary bin to include in Portaloos on remote worksites. While we had identified a clear gap in the market, our solution only had small differences from existing competitors, and was ineffective in the current market,” recalls Amanda. “Through the $100K Challenge, we interviewed dozens of tradies and found there to be a stronger interest in a self-managed sanitary disposal option.”

The resulting CycleMate kit is a self-managed sanitary disposal kit which enables women to dispose of sanitary waste discreetly and conveniently, whether that’s on remote worksites or on back-country hikes. Although they stress that it’s still a “very early-stage venture”, they are excited to now be entering the branding and product development phases. “We’re also beginning to develop our social media presence to start the conversation around adequate sanitary facilities,” says Amanda.

And that’s an important conversation to have, believe the pair. Beyond the CycleMate product, their vision is to address wider issues around access to sanitary products and facilities. “There’s still plenty of work to be done,” observes Rebecca. “In the health education system, we are exclusively educated about these topics based on gender. Such a separation has created a gap in knowledge and awareness for non-menstruating people from a young age. This contributes to the stigma around periods, especially in the workplace. While progress is slow, we hope to start a broader conversation.”

The pair confess they’ve found the process of starting their own business to be daunting at times. “We both found the most challenging aspect was the feelings of self-doubt and overwhelm. We felt intimidated by how much time, skill, and effort is required to execute a business. We thought, ‘Can we really do this?’” recalls Rebecca. Their participation in CIE’s Venture Lab Incubator – another benefit of their Velocity Challenge win – has therefore proved an integral part of their journey, she says. “It’s been an amazing and greatly worthwhile opportunity. Having access to the University of Auckland’s start-up ecosystem has been invaluable, with a wide scope of networks, expertise and support on hand.”

The powerful partnership the pair have developed has also helped. Although they only met in 2022, when they both took the same second-year business course, they bonded quickly over shared interests and skills, including a goal to pursue their own businesses from a young age. Their very different backgrounds, however, have become an unexpected asset: “We were raised in different countries and cultures, which has proven valuable when we need to consider things from different perspectives,” observes Amanda.

Amanda and Rebecca’s advice to students with similar entrepreneurial ambitions is emphatic. “There are so many amazing opportunities and networks to leverage at the University of Auckland and through CIE – take advantage of them!” says Amanda. “Don’t wait until the best time – just do it and believe in yourself.” Rebecca agrees. “Give everything a try! We don’t have too much to lose as young students, so now is the perfect time to go for it.”

Their ambition has certainly paid off. As well as taking CycleMate into the next exciting phase of its evolution, the pair have recently been nominated to represent the University of Auckland in the U21 Rise Showcase and Awards. Above all, they’re proud to be driving an initiative with such wide-ranging benefits. “We feel we’re making a difference to tradeswomen and those facing difficulties regarding access to basic sanitary needs,” they say. “It’s been so rewarding to see how much we’ve been able to achieve and seeing all of our hard work pay off.”