Young Guns: Behind Joni co-founder Jayesh Vekariya’s decision to launch a period care company

The Victoria-based entrepreneur is working to make feminine hygiene products more accessible

When Jayesh Vekariya decided to launch a feminine hygiene startup in 2019, he knew people would raise questions about his capabilities. But he was determined to solve a problem.

Vekariya and his two siblings were raised by a single mom in Gujarat, India, on the border of a slum. His mom started a textile business that Vekariya describes as a “really cool adventure that I got to witness as a kid”—he saw her use entrepreneurship to employ otherwise unemployed women in the area and to eventually purchase a bigger home for her own family.

He wanted to do that, too. Community members pitched in to support his education, enabling him to finish a MSc in pharmacology from Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences in India, and then another MSc in international project development from the Neoma Business School in France. Finally, in 2017, he enrolled in the University of Victoria to complete an MBA in entrepreneurship.

“I landed on the statistic that one in three young Canadians can’t afford safe period-care products,” says Vekariya. “That’s more than three million Canadians.”

Months of learning about products, manufacturers and other organizations culminated in an idea for a sustainable period-care company. He got introduced to now-co-founder Linda Biggs, who, according to Vekariya, brought expertise he didn’t have. She had previously served as chief operating officer at Victoria-based reusable food wrap company Abeego, and when Vekariya pitched her his idea, she immediately prompted him to change the packaging and branding.

Joni period care products
Feminine hygiene products from Joni

The pair launched Joni as co-CEOs in 2020. Instead of using plastic beds for products, they opted for a cornstarch and bamboo blend because it allows them to make thinner, more absorbent pads that can be shipped by lettermail. Shipping by that method helps Joni reach far communities where people otherwise pay six times more for the same product. “It builds a barrier for those who are already facing affordability and accessibility crises,” says Vekariya, who has seen how stigma and period poverty can exacerbate health issues.

In 2022, Joni won Telus’s $125,000 #StandWithOwners program, which supports impact businesses. With warehouses in Delta, Victoria, Ontario and Nevada, the company scaled from a direct-to-consumer online brand to being in over 600 stores in Canada, including London Drugs, Whole Foods and Healthy Planet.

“Five percent of our revenue goes back into the community through nonprofits,” Vekariya notes, adding that Joni currently works with 21 nonprofit partners in Canada. It also works with schools, universities and workplaces to streamline access to reliable period care—its patent-pending dispensers are already in over 100 institutions, and by December, Vekariya projects that they will be in some 2,300 government offices in B.C.

“I saw it firsthand when I was kid, from my mom’s experience, that starting a business or having a startup solves many problems for yourself and for the community around you,” he says.

10:30 a.m.

After a quick Gujarati breakfast of papri and tea and then an hour of responding to emails, Vekariya starts collaborating with the Joni team. He focuses on developing partnerships, like getting Joni into Staples stores and helping Chilliwack-based period equity nonprofit organization Project Aim deliver $2,000 worth of period-care products to Hawaii during its recent wildfire crisis.

1 p.m.

The afternoon is reserved focus time, says Vekariya: “I love to read and see what other companies or R&D firms are doing.” He also works with Joni’s research partners (Camosun College’s Technology Access Centre and UVic’s Innovation Lab) to carry out any projects in progress.

4 p.m.

In the late afternoon, Vekariya networks in a forum for entrepreneurs in Victoria, which he says is a safe space to ask “the stupidest questions possible.” Everybody is happy to help, he adds—the group recently donated $1,500 to support a UVic student’s scholarship.

“It means a lot to me because I got a lot of support for my education, so I want to make sure that other students get support and we build our community stronger,” says Vekariya.