Shubham Issar and Amanat Anand, two Delhi residents unaware of each other’s existence, met thousands of miles away for the first time while studying Industrial Design at Parsons School of Design in New York. They soon forged a friendship that turned into an inventive camaraderie. Between 2015-2017, Issar was working at a fabrication firm, designing interiors for brand storefronts such as Chanel, Fenty and Macy’s. Anand, on the other hand, was working at a furniture design firm. Their gravitation towards social innovation and a desire to use design to help solve the world’s health challenges led them to apply for UNICEF’s Wearables for Good Challenge, which they eventually won. What the two college friends created in the process is an innovative tool aimed at addressing the spread of infectious diseases amongst children.
SoaPen, designed by Issar and Anand, is a unique product that kids can use to draw all over their hands with colorful, berry scented soap sticks. Each pen gives 100-plus washes, is non-toxic and for every three pens sold in the US, the company donates one to a school in a low-income community. “While visiting classrooms, we noticed that kids in the age range of 3-5 years have numerous arts and craft focused activities. This made us think that SoaPen could fit in easily,” said Anand. After winning the UNICEF prize, the duo whipped up $28,000 in a kick-starter to fund R&D and production. Both Issar and Anand were just 22 when they first started shopping for contract manufacturers for their newly designed product. Age prejudice would often come in the way. “We spoke with a lot of contract manufactures, but when we’d shop in person, they’d realize we were young and would raise prices,” said Issar. For the young inventors, this is when the importance of industry mentors became prominent in their search for guidance. “When we met mentors who connected us to the right people, we finally found the right partners to work with,” said Issar.
After going through 50 prototypes, SoaPen was launched on Amazon in November 2018 and retails between $15-$20. Along the way, the duo made it to the 2017 edition of the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and SoaPen was named Toyota's ‘Mother of Invention’ in 2019. The LLC is already growing at a monthly rate of 20%. The team’s mantra for successfully navigating the world of innovation and entrepreneurship is to approach the right people at the right time, to do so unabashedly and without fear. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help – we cold emailed mentors and advisors – the worst case is that someone is going to say no,” said Issar. “I found that 90% of the time, people were willing to help. Surrounding yourself with industry specific mentors and reaching out to the smartest people in the industry to guide you goes a long way.” While building distribution is the most important goal for the team, in the near future they “aim to expand our product basket and primarily design products that are fun while having an impact,” according to Anand.