We're thrilled to see more and more of our startups not just creating brilliant products and services, but also changing the word. One such business is CorkYogis. They create innovative cork yoga mats that don't slip - in fact the sweatier your hands get, the more the  mat clings to the floor. They're also naturally self-cleaning, and - best of all - each mat purchased changes the life of a woman in India, helping vulnerable women out of the sex trade. We caught up with founder Lara over a glass of wine.

Lara Sengupta, founder of Virgin StartUp-funded enterprise CorkYogis

1. Explain your business in the time it would take a glass of wine to be poured

CorkYogis is a business and social enterprise that specializes in eco-friendly cork yoga mats. We love cork yoga mats because they have unmatched grip that increases when wet, unlike any other yoga mat. Cork is also self-cleaning, so your mat won't absorb any nasty smells or bacteria.

CorkYogis is partnered with an amazing charity in Kolkata, India, that rescues girls and young women from sex slavery and teaches them skills to obtain alternative employment. We also provide jobs for the skilled girls; they make our yoga mat bags which are beautifully handmade from 100% recycled saris. For every mat we sell we donate money to teach one woman a life-changing skill such as craft and clothes-making, literacy and numeracy. For every yoga mat sold, a woman learns a life-changing skill. Every yoga bag sold equals a week's wage for a skilled woman.

2. Where are you based and why is it a good location for your business?

We are based in East Dulwich, but our main presence in our online store. London is a great place to start up a business. There are so many resources for young entrepreneurs and the people of London are always looking out for the newest, fun, most unique startups. We have had tons of support for our idea in the beginning, which really encouraged me to turn the idea into a business.

3. How did you come up with the idea?

I love yoga and have always had problems with yoga mats becoming slippery and dangerous when your hands are sweaty. I heard about paddleboarders using cork surfaces when doing paddleboard yoga and thought what a great idea it would be to turn into an everyday yoga mat! I have loved yoga for about eight years, and cork is the best material I have come across for practicing yoga.

I met the charity we work with a few years ago when I was out in Kolkata visiting relatives. My nan had recently passed away and we wanted to donate her saris to a local charity - that’s when we met Destiny. I was so moved and inspired by what the charity was doing, I knew I wanted to help out. I needed a channel to connect these two ideas - so I created CorkYogis!

4. What’s the business model?

We want to start out developing a solid presence in London. Yoga is very popular here, so this is a great place for us to start. We have an online store and we hope to get our unique yoga mats into big stores around London by the end of the year. We love connecting our customers directly to the projects we are doing in India by allowing them to choose where their donation goes with every yoga mat purchase.

5. Who are your competitors?

There are some pretty big yoga brands out there such as Lulemon, Jade, Manduka that all sell pretty awesome yoga mats. But our yoga mats are so unique compared to these other brands. Our mats stand out because cork has qualities that are so perfect for yoga. Also the work we do in India we hope will inspire our western audience.

6. What’s unique about your business?

Everything! Everything about CorkYogis is unique, from our amazing cork yoga mats to our mission to use yoga to combat sex slavery in India.

7. What stage was your business at when you applied for the Start Up Loan?

We are still pretty new to business. When I applied for the loan I was putting all the pieces together, getting ready to launch. Now, we have just launched!

8. How have you used it to grow your business?

The loan has allowed us to get our first shipment of yoga mats and yoga mat bags. The loan meant that we had some flexibility on making a profit on our first shipment, so we can send out sample mats to bloggers, magazines and other influential people in London.

9.Who is your regional delivery partner and how did they help you get a Virgin StartUp loan?

I live in London so we worked with Virgin StartUp directly. They were a great help - the business workshop I went on was really useful and allowed me to meet other people starting up like me!

10. Biggest achievement so far?

Our biggest achievement was a few weeks ago. We applied to Green Man Festival to get a trader stall, and we got a call from one of the organisers saying they loved our products and they wanted CorkYogis to supply the festival with Yoga Mats. We are still in talks about the logistics, but it’s great that such a huge festival would want to work with us!

11. What’s next for your business?

A lot, I hope! We're really trying to build a strong following in London first, and then we will expand from there. As the business gets bigger we hope to grow our projects in Kolkata, teaching skills and providing jobs for more vulnerable women.


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