Muruganantham had his light bulb moment when he was 29 years old, and holding a
sanitary napkin for the first time.
the cotton pads he was buying as a gift for his new wife, the Indian
entrepreneur realized that the multinational company that produced them was
probably spending cents on raw materials, and making a huge profit.
Muruganantham's village in Tamil Nadu, including his wife, would often forgo
these expensive pads for rags they used repeatedly through their cycles. Even
more uncomfortably, sometimes they utilized husks or leaves during
exorbitant cost of the foreign-made pads cut into their families' meal budget.
Given a choice between fresh pads and fresh milk, they chose the latter.
napkins from global companies are in Indian stores for about $1.50 for an
eight-pack. The ones from Murugantham's machine wholesale at about 25 cents for
an eight-pack; the women's groups can sell them at whatever retail price they
choose, retaining the profit. The cost of the machines ranges from about $1,200
to $6,000, depending on the features.
primary impulse when people are struggling to make a living is either, 'How can
I make more money?' or 'How can I save more money?' " Virmani said.
"If you address those needs, your innovation stands a better chance to be
adopted, to spread."
machine, which Muruganantham began to research in 1998, has three stages of
production. Inside a stainless steel container, a motor fluffs cellulose to
prepare it as the core material for the napkins. Hand- and leg-operated tools
are used to form the core of the napkin. A heat press is used to seal and apply
the outer cover to the napkin. It's sterilized and packaged, and then ready to
invention was already spreading across India when Virmani found him last year,
with 500 machines sold and an innovation award from India's president under the
entrepreneur's belt. But getting there had been all uphill.
Muruganantham had prototyped the machine, he needed testers. But his wife and
other family members refused, as did girls at the nearby medical college. So
Muru, as Virmani calls him, decided to become a tester himself.
bottles with animal blood and attached tubes that would press the blood into
his drawers as he biked and walked around town. His rural village shunned him,
viewing this with suspicion. And his wife's suspicions — that he was chasing
medical college girls around town for something other than product testing —
ended his marriage.
for six years, Muruganantham pressed on (yup, pressed) — and now more than
1,000 of his machines have been sold in India. There's also been global
interest in replicating the model, from Afghanistan to Rwanda.
said he attributes Muruganantham's success to the inventor's understanding of
his core audience, starting with the rudimentary nature of the machine.
"It's wooden, and it's got pedals where he could have had motors,"
knows how to motorize the damn things, but the more complicated you make the
machines, at some point they'll break down," Virmani said. "The way
he's engineered it, it's pretty much something that [the rural women] can
repair themselves, and they don't have to keep paying for servicing."
says he wants to see India become a "100 percent sanitary
napkin country" in his lifetime.