University students and alumni launch safe-sex subscription box
A group of University of Michigan students and alumni launched a business supporting sexual health both on campus and throughout the country: BusyBox, LLC. BusyBox is a personalized box full of sexual and reproductive health supplies that are sent to customers’ doors, eliminating the need to purchase these items in a store.
BusyBox, LLC, started by Public Health senior Monica Smolinski and LSA senior Alison Elgass, was created for the School of Public Health’s Innovation in Action project last fall. BusyBox officially became an LLC in December. School of Education senior Sarah Mason, and Kayla Carter, then a graduate of the Public Health School who is now a doctoral student at the University of Washington, also joined the team. The BusyBox team eventually went on to place No. 1 in the Innovation in Action competition, encourages students to develop a solution to a real-world challenge.
Elgass explained the team aims to better sexual health and literacy on campus and beyond. She said BusyBox was born when members of the team recognized a gap in the sexual-health market.
“What we found talking to friends and people around campus and customers, in general, is that these products are very widely available, but a lot times people feel uncomfortable buying them,” Elgass said. “As a result, it can be a barrier for people using these supplies.”
Smolinski described the contents of the box, which includes safe-sex items as well as pamphlets discussing relevant sexual health topics.
“(These products include) internal and external condoms, personal lubricant, dental dams and pregnancy and UTI tests,” Smolinski said. “It also comes with BusyBox-made infographics with topics such as consent, healthy relationships, gender and sexuality, and emergency contraception.”
Carter said the team set out to better the way college students purchase and use sexual and reproductive health products.
“We want to foster people’s ability to have safe and consensual and pleasurable and informed sexual experiences,” Carter said. “We want to market towards anyone out there who is having sex or thinking about having sex soon and wants to be prepared for it.”
Elgass echoed Carter’s thoughts, and added that they want to encourage people’s confidence surrounding sex while making sure they stay safe.
“We are trying to be that middle ground of, ‘Yeah, you should be having sex in the way you want to have sex and that is a great thing, but also be doing it safely and be prepared,’” Elgass said. “Our product is designed to make you confident and prepared so it’s not something that you should be ashamed of in any way.”
To appeal to individuals, the process is catered to customers, allowing them to select items each month, Smolinski said.
“It is all tailored to the user, so they have an online profile where they click and choose what they want in their box and it comes to them either once a month, every other month or every two months,” Smolinski said.
Smolinski also described how the supplies come in a discreet, unlabeled white box in order to keep a customer’s personal and sexual health private. Additionally, since the box is customizable, it is not geared towards a particular gender and the products can be used for anyone.
LSA sophomore Soraya Zrikem said the customizable aspect of BusyBox might be something especially appealing for customers.
“I think that a lot of people do value privacy and what they want to be buying and I think that would be totally valuable,” Zrikem said. “With any of these services, if it is something as personal as your sex life, you would want to customize it… that definitely makes it more attractive.”
Zrikem added that the privacy of BusyBox is also a draw, as many people might be anxious when going into a store to buy sex items.
“I don’t know how taboo buying condoms and lube and stuff is as an adult, but for people who are uncomfortable with that… they don't have to deal with the embarrassment or social anxiety that can come along with doing those things,” Zrikem said.
However, Zrikem questioned the service being a subscription, worrying people might get the supplies but not use them.
“I feel like it would be more successful if it weren't a subscription,” Zrikem said. “I feel like people’s sex lives… they aren’t as regular, like your period or shaving… It would require people to know how much they’d be having sex. ”
This project is a years in the making, and has recently put up pre-order opportunities on their website, according to Elglass.
“This past year was about taking the idea and developing the plans and getting inventory,” Elgass said. “We just launched our pre-orders so our website is now live and you can preorder your box for the beginning of March — right around spring break is when we’ll start shipping.”
When asked about the future of BusyBox, Mason said she is excited to see where the first year of their startup business is going to take her and her teammates.
“This is a really exciting time for us to see how much we can grow in the first year.” Mason said. “Ideally I would love to do this full time … I hope that we are able to be successful and keep that success going for years to come.”