Andrea make the world a brighter place--literally. The friends created an inflatable solar-powered lantern in 2010, when they were graduate students in Columbia University's architecture program. They've since sent the lights to more than 70 countries--often to disaster victims--through their company, LuminAid.Sreshta and Anna Stork are on a mission to
"For me, light has always represented hope," says Stork. Having no consistent access to electricity and being in the dark "really hinders you. Students can't study at night. You can't cook. You can't take care of your family." With the long-lasting lanterns that LuminAid provides, "light is the beginning of freedom to dream about the future."
Depending on the outcome of several large deals, 2016 sales are on track to reach $3 million to $5 million, largely fueled by aid agencies and outdoor enthusiasts. Sreshta and Stork have raised $250,000 from investors including Shark Tank's Mark Cuban and the Inc. + Toms Pitch for Good, and taken in another $310,000 from grants and by winning business-plan competitions. But given the founders' mission orientation, one of the metrics they are most eager to boost is the number of lights they donate to those in need.
LuminAid's core product is a lightweight, waterproof, flat square that contains an LED with a solar-rechargeable battery. It inflates for use, and can work on a high or a low setting. The most powerful model can provide up to 50 hours of light on a 10-hour charge in the sun. As part of the company's Give Light, Get Light donation program, launched in 2012, buyers can choose to pay $30 both to get a LuminAid light and to send one to a charity partner in an electricity-deprived area. Today, about 30 percent of customers choose to donate a light. Working with various relief groups, LuminAid has distributed more than 25,000 lights through the Give Light, Get Light program.
Last year, Sreshta and Stork traveled to Malawi with customer ShelterBox to bring lights to flood victims. Teaching them how to inflate the plastic squares was a great bonding experience, says Stork, noting that recipients "get it very quickly" and soon develop routines to keep the lanterns charged. "People really treasure a light when they have it," says Stork, "because they want it to last a long time."