Among the new Franklin Innovation Center’s inaugural class of startups, a feminine hygiene startup is establishing a global supply chain of biodegradable menstrual products from the LeHew Mansion.
Founded smack-dab in the middle of the pandemic in August 2020, Trace Femcare, Inc. is the latest venture of serial entrepreneur Claire Crunk, founder of Southeast Hemp Fiber and Together Women’s Wellness. This marks her first foray into packaged consumer goods, her other businesses having been professional services oriented. Since moving into the new space at the Innovation Center, she’s also added a partner — Megan Galaske, M.D. — with consideration for a possible third partner from Ohio with mechanical engineering experience.
“Already it has made the world of difference in our creative flow, our efficiency and our overall wellbeing as individuals and a company, and it allows us to welcome additional team members,” Crunk said. “We can work so much faster in a collaborative space. […] Startup workflow is almost exclusively collaborative, is always changing, and requires massive creativity plus visually appealing settings for content creation.”
After spending five months looking for a place to plant their roots, they found it particularly difficult to find a commercial space that met all their needs: fiscally responsible while still fundraising, logistically feasible for the work and geographically convenient. Crunk found out about the availability at the Franklin Innovation Center from LinkedIn and applied immediately.
“It also feels great to be in this space made possible by the generous giving of Mr. LeHew and the Berry family,” Crunk added. “I’m a BGA alumna, where the Berry family is legendary, and my dad used to work for Mr. LeHew when renovating The Factory. So I feel a connection with the community here that goes beyond a physical presence.”
Fundraising continues with the latest round having begun this month, and their sights are set on the second quarter of 2022 to start marketing their product online. Marketing and brand development are Galaske’s purview. She already serves the Franklin community as a physician.
Trace Femcare produces hemp-fiber tampons, sourcing hemp fiber from North Carolina and cotton from California. Hemp is one of nature’s most efficient carbon-capture resources, siphoning it from the air to restore its soil. Processing its resultant fiber well enough makes it just as absorbent, antifungal and antimicrobial as cotton according to Crunk.
“All of these qualities make it a perfect drop-in material for products like tampons,” Crunk said.
Crunk personally cultivated the test plots for the type of hemp being used herself from within Middle Tennessee back in 2019, and based on that, she provided insight to contributing growers. Her ownership and operation of Southeast Hemp Fiber for the past three years has also given her exclusive access to what she considers “the best hemp fiber in the world” and thereby the only regenerative cotton for menstrual products. Trace has its hand in every step of its regenerative agriculture processes from seed selection to cultivation.
“We feel really good about being ahead of the industry curve with our expertise of hemp fibers and women’s health and in creating truly regenerative products that heal the earth.”
A Franklin native, Crunk graduated from Vanderbilt School of Nursing in 2008 and spent 10 years as a women’s health nurse practitioner before leaving after “burnout,” which led her to take her experience to the hemp space.
“I accidentally found myself in the world of hemp fiber processing development and fell in love with what this fiber can do for a product’s performance and for the environment,” Crunk said.