P&G Ventures is betting the next billion-dollar business idea will come from a female college student.
P&G Ventures is a startup accelerator within P&G that has helped develop beauty device brands like Opte, as well as menopause brand Kindra. As the consumer-packaged goods industry reaches new heights almost every day, both from a brand launch and sales increase perspective, companies have to find new ways to open up their pipeline of ideas. To wit, P&G Ventures has partnered with Her Campus Media to open up the channel for prospective businesses and include more female founders and female-led brands. Her Campus Media consists of three publications, including Her Campus, Spoon University and College Fashionista, plus the college influencer platform InfluenceHer Collective.
Together, Her Campus Media and P&G Ventures have created Her Campus Labs. The partnership is an initiative aiming to increase opportunities for women entrepreneurs and inventors to match them with funding opportunities, create networking opportunities and expose them to role models. Called Next in STEM challenge, the project offers women with business and brand ideas to directly pitch the P&G Ventures team.
“A big part of [P&G Ventures’] journey has been recognizing that we weren’t necessarily getting the diversity we wanted when we called for startups to solve particular [CPG] problems,” said Betsey Bluestone, senior director at P&G Ventures. “We know an equal world is better for everybody. But we also know we need diverse founders working in the spaces we’re interested in because it’s just good for business.”
Applications for the Next in STEM challenge opened on Monday. P&G Ventures wants to source business ideas from women studying science, technology, engineering or math. In the U.S. in 2018, women earned 85% of the bachelor’s degrees in health-related fields, but just 22% of those in engineering and 19% in computer science, according to PEW research. Bluestone said focus areas include, but are not limited to, non-toxic home care, menopause and aging, skin care for targeted issues like eczema, and sustainability. The Next in STEM Challenge runs between April and May, though Her Campus Media and P&G Ventures are discussing extending the program into autumn.
“Research shows that, by the time students reach college, women are significantly underrepresented in STEM majors. Additionally, many women who start in STEM fields, unfortunately, end up losing interest or leaving STEM altogether due to lack of support, role models or opportunities for upward mobility in the field,” said Windsor Hanger Western, co-founder of Her Campus Media. “Our goal with the Next in STEM Challenge is to change that narrative and provide a platform that promotes and elevates female innovation in STEM at the highest levels of an organization like P&G.”
This is not the first method P&G Ventures has used to provide development opportunities through its brands. In 2019, P&G Ventures also partnered with venture capital firm M13 to grow businesses that could be folded into P&G once reaching an appropriate size. Bluestone said P&G Ventures has a longstanding relationship with universities when it comes to academic research, but it had been looking for ways to further penetrate the student population to source ideas.
Her Campus Labs has hired four people to serve as scouts across four universities: the University of Florida, University of California in Berkeley, University of Southern California and Boston University. Western said these universities were chosen by Her Campus Media and P&G Ventures based on the strength of the scout applications and their insights into the entrepreneurial ecosystems at their respective universities. According to Her Campus’s 2020 media kit, there are over 390 college chapters for Her Campus across 46 U.S. states. Scouts will recruit applicants to apply to pitch business ideas to the P&G Ventures team. Western said she “hopes” to increase the number of scouts and universities represented in the future.
P&G Ventures will review applications and select however many ideas are of interest to the team. It will then invite those individuals to pitch their idea more formally to the team, said Bluestone. Successful pitches could receive support in the form of funding and operational guidance from P&G Ventures. Bluestone is expecting at least “dozens” of applications.
Bluestone said that, although P&G Ventures is not an investment arm, what the accelerator is doing with Her Campus is akin to impact investing, which is making positive incremental change by using investment dollars to support causes like social justice, equality or sustainability.
“The next billion-dollar brands at P&G will come from bringing the best of a startup together with the best of [our] big company,” she said. “This effort will play out to be a critical strategy for P&G over time.”