[100 Emerging Women Leaders] Akriti Gupta's platform is focused on products for breast cancer survivors
At the age of 17, when Akriti Gupta was busy preparing for her Class 12th exams, life threw her a curve ball. She had to take care of her father who was diagnosed with a rare type of blood cancer.
In an interaction with HerStory, Akriti says, “My father was losing hope because the doctors had given him a 10 percent survival chance. However, he wanted to keep himself occupied and would run a blog that would document his experience to help other patients. He had a different spark in his eyes every time he spoke about it. In that very hospital room, I decided to work for cancer patients.”
Today, 24-year-old Akriti has launched, a social enterprise helping breast cancer survivors. The platform provides various products and services to help them have a better quality of life.
Canfem’s product is approved by apex cancer institutes like AIIMS and Tata Memorial Hospital, and a pilot was completed on 2,200+ patients with a 93 percent satisfaction rate.
Akriti shares, “My father had lost his job owing to chemotherapy. This propelled me to start a financial rehabilitation initiative connecting cancer patients and their family members with the nearest skill development centre, helping them get job placements.”
While visiting her father in the hospital, Akriti came across several breast cancer patients and learnt about their difficulties, including finding an affordable, quality breast prosthesis in the market.
Through her detailed research, Akriti understood that breast removal in cancer patients creates body imbalance and harms their physical and mental health. It also impacts their body image and self-confidence, often leading to social isolation.
Moreover, as most women cannot afford expensive silicone prostheses, they resort to using harmful alternatives, including stuffed toys or baby diapers—causing a big blow to their dignity.
This prompted Akriti and her mother, Kavita Gupta, to take the entrepreneurial route and launch Canfem, which provides affordable quality breast prosthesis and mastectomy bras for breast cancer patients and survivors in India.
“Our priority was to take care of our father’s health. Whatever little time we had at home, my mother and I researched, sourced materials, tried different fabrics, developed 15-16 prototypes, and got them reviewed by doctors,” shares Akriti.
The mother-daughter duo consulted doctors with every modification and spoke to breast cancer patients in the hospital till they perfected a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
They started distributing it for free in the hospital until they were approached by a team of doctors at the All India Institute for Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi.
Akriti says, “They approved the product, and we started distributing the prosthesis at AIIMS. We got very lucky, and it was like God wanted us to do this.”
In 2018, Akriti pursued her master’s degree in Social Entrepreneurism at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, where she says, “I picked up my thesis around the problems faced by doctors, nurses, and patients in serving cancer patients, and I learnt how our organisation could contribute to this.”
Fulfilling other women’s dreams
Today, Canfem has impacted over 6,000 cancer patients across India since its launch in 2016. Available across sizes in three shapes (triangle, round, and drop), its breast prosthetics are priced between Rs 499 and Rs 1,999.
Canfem's manufacturing facility, based in rural India, also trains underprivileged women to manufacture its products, helping them become financially independent.
Lastly, Akriti advises women entrepreneurs to build a strong team and empower the women around them.
“As a 17-year-old, I faced a lot of disapproval from people around me. I was advised to get a stable job later. I was very lucky to have a supportive family. Channelise your energy productively and choose your battles wisely,” says Akriti.
She adds, “We have an amazing power to fulfil other women’s dreams.”
Edited by Suman Singh