Business grad learns the value of pivoting

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UVic business grad Bhuvi Kasiviswanathan, MBA ’17, is the director of finance for Breathe99. The start-up’s B2 reusable mask landed on TIME magazine’s Best Inventions of 2020 list. Photo submitted

Bhuvi Kasiviswanathan’s face mask was lauded in TIME magazine—then demand waned.


No other consumer product has come to symbolize the COVID-19 pandemic as much as the now-ubiquitous face mask. But as infection rates plummet with mass vaccination and the public’s need for droplet-defence wanes, what’s an upstart mask company to do?  

For Breathe99 and its director of finance, UVic business grad Bhuvi Kasiviswanathan (MBA ’17), changing circumstances meant pivoting—and adjusting expectations. The Minnesota-based start-up’s reusable B2 Mask, which filters out 99.6 per cent of microscopic particles, landed on TIME magazine’s Best Inventions of 2020 list. The team completed two successful crowdfunding campaigns, launched a popular Shopify store and, to date, generated more than $1.5 million in sales. However, convincing customers of B2’s health benefits beyond reducing the spread of COVID-19—whether it’s combatting cold and flu season or providing protection from pollution, allergens and the increasing prevalence of wild fire smoke during the summer months—has been a tough sell.

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Breathe99's B2 mask landed on TIME magazine's Best Inventions of 2020 list. Photo Breathe99

“The market for post-COVID masks is not high [for things like] wildfires and pollution,” Kasiviswanathan says. “People are not interested in buying such a high-quality mask. All they want is a mask for $2 or buying a pack of 25 masks for $40 or something from Amazon. And to be honest, how many of us even wore masks before COVID?”

Kasiviswanathan says the company will continue operations for the next year as it sells off its inventory, and the four founding members will pursue other job opportunities unless business turns around.

Despite Breathe99 essentially putting itself on life support, Kasiviswanathan says she’s gained invaluable experience and is proud of what of she and the business has accomplished in such a short, unprecedented time.  

She says customers told them that the mask provided peace of mind and allowed them to leave their homes to buy healthy food. Helping people is her core value, she adds. “And that was the core value of the business itself. And I'm extremely proud that I was able to achieve that, and I can definitely pat myself on the back and say… I have literally helped people through the product that we built.”

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For Breathe99 and its director of finance, UVic business grad Bhuvi Kasiviswanathan (MBA ’17), changing circumstances meant pivoting—and adjusting expectations. Photo submitted

Kasiviswanathan also credits her time at UVic for instilling values that have carried over into her business career. “The MBA program was amazing, all the professors and the teachers, the amount of knowledge that was imparted and the sustainability aspect. I think that is one pillar of the MBA program that changed me or shaped me into where I am right now… That's something that most stands out for me and how much I learned from that. And it’s why I joined Breathe99.”

As for what comes next, Kasiviswanathan isn’t entirely sure. “I don’t have a plan for starting another business right away,” she says. “So maybe I’ll find another company with similar values, or something that I can directly help people with. It doesn't have to be a mask or healthcare product, but still find a job in the space that I really care for. And I know I can shine.”

—Michael Kissinger, BEd ’94