More than three years ago, Britta Wiebe and Jamin Mahmood met on a dating platform. Britta, an alumna of the University of Hamburg, was working as a research assistant at Fresenius University in Hamburg at the time. As part of her interest in health issues, she recognised a general lack of information on the topic of menstruation at the time. Even in her circle of friends, people knew shockingly little about this socially relevant topic.
Jamin, on the other hand, first completed a dual study programme at a mineral oil company and then wanted to stand on his own two feet, so he eventually quit and pursued various business ideas: First it was a sustainable lunchbox, then a Japanese rice sandwich in the meantime and finally e-commerce with workwear. The latter still works for him today - automated.
In October 2019, Britta and Jamin travelled through South America together for several months. To experience impressions, clear their heads and reorient themselves. Before that, Britta quit her job as a research assistant. After two years, she no longer saw any possible further development here. Instead, she saw this in the start-up world. In the meantime, she already had an online magazine on menstruation, but that was not yet a business model. And that's where her boyfriend Jamin came in: "As a cis man and non-menstruating person, you generally have very little contact with the topic of menstruation. But I'm not afraid to talk openly about supposedly taboo subjects. My strengths lie in pushing forward ideas and visions. I want to invest my time and experience in projects that give people a better, more beautiful and more dignified life. Britta has identified a problem that has gone unnoticed for a long time, so we can bring our respective strengths to bear perfectly," is how he explains the cooperation with his partner.
Support from beyourpilot and the start-up service of the University of Hamburg
So in the summer of 2020, the couple looked for suitable advice and support for their start-up: on Google, they came across the University of Hamburg's start-up service as well as beyourpilot. Together with the start-up advisor Dr Bettina Otto, they applied for various grants, such as InnoFounder from IFB Innovationsstarter GmbH: "Our start-up advisor Bettina definitely gave us a boost, because not only did she present us with the suitable grants and approached the application with us, but she also encouraged us above all, made us thematically fit and always challenged us. She gave us an impression of what is possible. That inspired us," Jamin explains. The start-up Vulvani was born.
"We turn unpleasant topics into a digital educational product that is fun to use. With the help of interactive online courses from the Vulvani Academy and our online magazine, knowledge gaps about the female body are closed. This de-tabooises issues and enables a positive education of society," explains Britta. Vulvani is about so-called "edutainment", a combination of education and entertainment. "The extent to which people suffer from period taboo and resulting knowledge gaps includes shame and stigmatisation, avoidable health problems and exclusion from public life or religious practices." Vulvani wants to take people by the hand and encourage them to engage intensively and consciously with their own bodies in order to break the cycle of taboos together. "And always remember: not all who menstruate are women, and not all women menstruate," adds Britta. Instead of prescribing universal solutions, Vulvani provides food for thought and demands: "Let's revolutionise the enlightenment world together and talk more openly about menstruation and everything related to it!"
Menstruation without products: Free Bleeding
In May 2021, for example, the start-up launched "Menstruation without products: Free Bleeding", the first German-language online course on "Free Bleeding". Here, conventional period products, such as tampons or menstrual cups, are dispensed with. Instead, the blood is given "free rein". However, this does not end in bloody trousers - as many might imagine in their mind's eye. Because with Free Bleeding, the menstrual blood is drained directly on the toilet: "Through a conscious perception of one's own body, it is possible to feel when the blood comes - just as we have learned to do with other bodily fluids," Britta explains on her homepage. Free Bleeding is a lot about active listening, conscious observation and mindfulness in relation to one's own body.
Britta was inspired to start Free Bleeding during the 2015/2016 winter semester in Mexico, where she spent the semester abroad for her Master's degree at the University of Hamburg.
. In the course of her stay of several months, she was annoyed that her favourite German tampons were not available everywhere. Her solution? "Take kilos of tampons with you" - until a good friend told her about Free Bleeding in passing. Once she tried it, there was no turning back for her. "It's a wonderful little adventure journey I've been on since then with my own body, menstrual cycle and period, and in the process I'm constantly getting to know myself better - and that's exactly what I want to share in this online course," says Britta.
Unrealistic visualisation supports the menstrual taboo
Another topic, for example, is the often unrealistic portrayal of menstruation in the media: "We know how difficult it is to find good photo material for your own website, blog or social media channels. Especially in the area of menstruation, there is currently not much choice and above all no realistic representation of the period - unfortunately! That's why, from the very beginning, we were dependent on creating our own image material - preferably with real menstrual blood and sustainable period products. Because we don't want photos that reproduce preconceptions of menstruation (à la blue liquid as period blood in advertising)," Britta reports. Vulvani shares its own images completely free of charge: "Because the menstruation taboo won't go away on its own and, as we all know, pictures say more than a thousand words. We don't want a possible contribution to normalising periods to fail because of good visuals," adds Jamin.
As first movers into the future
Britta and Jamin want to accompany women from their first period to menopause. They see themselves as first movers with their platform Vulvani. On the market, mostly individuals offer their courses. "These are on a good level, but also very highly priced. In addition, they often have life advice attached to them, which is not always desired," says Britta.
The Academy is meant to be a digital education platform around the female body that meets the zeitgeist of today's networked society and offers a high course variety. The sale of online courses is to be the core business, which is to be further diversified. In the long term, Vulvani will grow into an educational marketplace around the body, where external creators can also offer online courses to a broad audience.
At the moment, the platform is working with freelancers. The goal is to build a team from Hamburg that operates globally and remotely. So far, Vulvani is bilingual. 40 per cent of the users communicate in English. In the next few years, the start-up wants to make knowledge about menstruation accessible to different target groups: Britta and Jamin have Spanish, Arabic and possibly Chinese in mind as the next languages. In doing so, they want to be guided by feedback.
With increasing capital, the start-up also wants to outsource more. There is also an online shop for merchandise. There are no products of their own yet, but they want to test and recommend or sell products such as period underwear.
Vision: The own platform as a global competence centre
With the Academy, Vulvani wants to become a global competence centre for everything to do with the female body. In doing so, the startup potentially reaches 51 percent of the world's population as a relevant target group, who are born female and deal with menstruation throughout their lives. "The focus for us is personal and social education as well as female empowerment. Through entertaining education, we want to normalise taboo subjects, empower people and create inclusive societies," Britta summarises the vision.