Student Spotlight - Nicole Sanchez
Written by: Sam Hughes
Photographed by: Jenna Silverstone
As seen in the November 2019 issue of Lazy Faire magazine
In the spirit of entrepreneurship, Lazy Faire sat down with Hempact - a social enterprise started by University of Alberta students with the mission of providing eco-friendly products to reduce agricultural waste, promote sustainability, and educate others on feminine hygiene.
Hempact’s idea was first developed in Summer 2017 and soon joined Enactus UAlberta as a project. Since its inception, Hempact has received much media attention and recognition both within the UoA community and outside.
Firstly, can you tell us a bit about yourselves? What is your background and what’re you pursuing in school?
I’m in my 4th year of Business Economics and Law. I was in Accounting initially, but switched out after realizing that it wasn’t for me. I’m from Fort Saskatchewan and moved there from the Philippines 10 years ago.
Can you tell us about the inspiration behind this business?
The idea sprung out of an innovation competition in Drayton Valley back in summer 2017. The following September, Enactus UAlberta took on the project, and this is where the original creators tried to develop the technology for this product. I joined in February of 2018 and started as a Business Developer; I needed ways to get involved in the business school, and since it was in the middle of the year, I didn’t have a lot of other options available to me. I’m glad I came across Hempact. I transitioned into a project management role since everyone on the project (at the time) was graduating. At Hempact, we’re trying to create a menstrual pad made out of hemp and bioplastic which will be completely biodegradable in 6 months. People don’t talk about periods and menstruation, so it’s often unknown that it can take between 500 to 800 years for products on the market to degrade naturally.
Along that same vein, given the stigma surrounding feminine hygiene and menstruation, would you say it’s been challenging to administer the business?
For sure - the product development is being handled by an interdisciplinary team of 17 students, however, we do still have team members dedicated to spread awareness and educate Edmonton’s youth and other stakeholders on the stigma around menstruation and beginning a conversation regarding the topic.
How do you see your product and your business growing in the future? Do you have any ideas for new markets or new products?
We’re currently still developing the prototype and are aiming to release it before December. We’re almost ready to launch; we’re trying to keep up with the technology and make sure that we have a good product before we do something with it. We’re looking at partnering with the SU because we think the university would be a good test market. Then, we want to expand into e-commerce and then eventually retail if feasible. We’re also looking to expand into the diaper market.
Would you say that what you’ve learned at the school of business has helped you in running this business? If so, how?
The biggest help was from Business 201 - developing the business plan, group work, and leadership skills. The mentorship from our faculty advisors has been very helpful; they’ve been really good with connecting us with the right people and holding us accountable. Most of the competitions we enter (which fund us) also come through the business school; so, the business school has definitely been a help in many ways.
What role do you think that organizations like Hempact can play in capitalizing on the environmental-awareness trend?
I think that one of the roles we can play is to increase the government’s awareness on such product options. We’re currently talking to the City of Edmonton to increase accessibility to these products, therefore, I think that having projects like this - that are talking about the environment and social impact of products - really help to get on the government's radar and hold them accountable.
What motivates you to succeed?
I’m really passionate about impacting the community in one way or another, so social entrepreneurship is something I’ve always been interested in. Having Enactus as a continual support has been really helpful. Being passionate about something just makes me want to go for it.
Do you have any advice for other students interested in pursuing Entrepreneurship?
Just go for it. Just take the risk. What you learn by being an entrepreneur, you can’t really learn in class because you’re learning through first-hand experience. You might be scared or stressed out sometimes, but it’s a really great learning opportunity; you get to connect with a lot of great people. Surround yourself with a great support-system, and go after what drives you.