Inspired by a trip to visit her grandmother in India, Kavita Shukla invented a simple, natural solution for food spoilage that is saving families money and disrupting today’s food economy. With its motto, ‘Fresh made simple,’ FreshPaper herb infused antibacterial sheets are fighting food spoilage and hunger across the globe.
Little did Kavita Shukla know that when she went to visit her grandmother in India at the age of twelve, it would be a trip that would set a trajectory for the rest of her life.
Warned by her mother not to drink the water while she was there, she accidentally drank an entire cup. But when her grandmother handed her a mixture of different spices in a murky brown tea and made her drink it, she didn’t get sick.
Here she shares her story with HSN on the evolution of FreshPaper and her experiences as an entrepreneur.
Tell us your story. What inspired you to create FreshPaper
Sometimes, inspiration comes from the most unlikely of places. When I was 12 years old, I was visiting my grandmother in India and accidentally drank some unfiltered tap water. I started to panic, worried that I would get sick. My grandma quickly went in her kitchen and came back with a spice tea home remedy. I was really skeptical but I drank it… and I didn’t get sick!
That experience sparked my curiosity, and I was inspired to learn more about the spices from my grandmother. When I got back home, I started a middle school science project where I added different spices to jars of dirty pond water. After some time, I started to observe that some of the spices seemed to stop mold from growing! After seeing some fuzzy berries on a trip to the grocery store with my mom, I started dipping strawberries in my spice mixture to see if they would stay fresh longer.
To make a long story short, after spending most of high school as a weird kid meticulously rotting fruits & vegetables, I created FreshPaper, a simple innovation that keeps food fresh for longer, naturally.
What were some of the challenges you encountered along the way?
I was 17 years old – a senior in high school – when I found out that I would be granted a patent for FreshPaper. I was so excited about how FreshPaper could help the over a billion people living without refrigeration, and I couldn’t wait to get my invention out into the world. I set out to build a non-profit, and ended up learning how hard it can be to give something away for free. After trying and failing over and over, I started to lose hope. Although as a child, I believed that I had discovered something that could help reduce food waste and take on global hunger, as I grew up, my mind started to tell me that I was not enough to bring my invention to the world. Like many young women, I mentally replayed all of the times I was told that I needed more experience, more degrees, more money, more than I had and more than I was. I gave up.
Over the years, I couldn’t stop thinking about FreshPaper and I decided to give myself, and my idea, one more chance. So one Saturday morning, after having stayed up all night hand-making a batch of FreshPaper in my studio apartment, I took FreshPaper to my local farmer’s market. We started with $300 in paper-making supplies – we had no funding, no marketing budget, and no experience, but we were amazed by the response! I could never have imagined what would happen next: that a grassroots movement would take FreshPaper to places I could have never imagined, that hard work guided by faith and intuition mattered more than a business plan, and that FreshPaper would one day be used by farmers and families across the globe.
How did you come to HSN?
I was in NYC for the JOY Movie premiere luncheon hosted by Tina Brown, the founder of Women in the World, who has supported me and my work as we’ve scaled FreshPaper. I was so inspired to meet Joy Mangano and hear her share her story with Tina alongside Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russell. While I was in NYC, I ended up attending an event with a friend (HSN designer Lisa Sun!) where I met a kind lady from HSN who was very encouraging of my idea. I didn’t know it at the time, but she turned out to be Mindy Grossman, the CEO of HSN! Mindy invited me to come visit HSN in Florida and encouraged me to think about HSN as platform for our social enterprise to reach people across the country. I was blown away by her vision for HSN and her support of women entrepreneurs like me, and within months, FreshPaper premiered on HSN. I couldn’t believe the response – HSN took our simple innovation to 90 million households across the country.
Why are you passionate about supporting entrepreneurs?
As I’ve shared my story over the years, what’s surprised me is how many people have told me about their own secret inventions – especially women of all ages, from all different backgrounds. I can relate — there weren’t a lot of CEOs or entrepreneurs that looked like me growing up, and for nearly a decade, I couldn’t imagine that I could be the person to bring my idea to the world.
It took me many years before I found the courage to take a small step forward. Taking that handmade batch of FreshPaper to my local farmer’s market changed the trajectory of my entire life. For the first time, standing in that farmer’s market I understood the power of sharing our ideas and stories.
It’s been a dream come true for me to now be able to share my story and our mission with millions of households on HSN.
I am so excited to have the opportunity to “pay it forward.” Together with HSN, Vital Voices, and Women in the World, we’re launching FRESHVOICES — an unprecedented campaign highlighting the incredible stories of trailblazing women entrepreneurs to inspire the next generation of women innovators to take the next step with their ideas.
Bringing your idea into the world is a tremendous act of vulnerability. Recent studies have shown that women in particular often lack the confidence to start their own companies. This is a tremendous loss of potential – of creativity, of innovation, of industry-changing leadership.
Innovators often don’t come in the forms we expect. So often along this journey, I’ve been the youngest person in the room, or the only woman, or the only person of color. There are so many successful women entrepreneurs (many of whom are on HSN!), but their stories are often not widely known. The FRESHVOICES campaign will highlight incredible women role models — because you can’t be what you can’t see.
How do you see the world of entrepreneurs evolving over the coming years?
In the years to come, I believe that entrepreneurs will continue to realize their potential to drive social change. Today, social innovators can harness the power of consumer markets to access millions around the world and provide affordable solutions to change their everyday lives. I hope these opportunities will enable social entrepreneurs not only to effect consumers’ behavior change, but also to drive sustainable social impact by reaching under-served populations.