Business Week, October 15, 2009
Last spring, when we first wrote about Sam Goldman and Ned Tozun, founders of D.Light Design, they were one of BusinessWeek's America's Most Promising Social Entrepreneur finalists. Goldman and Tozun, who met as MBA students at Stanford University's Institute of Design had transformed a class assignment into a full-fledged business with $6 million in venture funding. Their goal: commercialize and sell solar-powered LED lamps to those living on less than $5 a day in Africa and Southwest Asia.
It's always nice to get an update and hear what has happened to any of our finalists and D.Light checked in to tell us they are about to globally launch the Kiran lamp, (which means "ray of light" in Hindi) and they are calling it the "most affordable quality solar lantern in the world." Currently available in India, the Kiran, which resembles a kerosene lamp and costs $10, provides four to eight hours of bright, clean light on a single day's solar charge. It can also be AC-charged with a Nokia mobile phone charger (which D.Light says many of their customers already own).
Replacing kerosene with affordable, scalable alternative light sources has the potential to greatly improve the lives of millions in the developing countries where D.Light is focusing its efforts. In addition to the safety factor (kerosene is highly combustible and dangerous), D.Light found that having an LED light made it possible for children to study in the evening and saved families both time and money rendering it unnecessary to travel (in some cases days) in order to replenish their kerosene supplies. In Africa, families can pay up to $10 per month for kerosene and in India, where kerosene is heavily subsidized by the government; families will still pay a few dollars a month. The new lamp (cheaper by more than half from some of D.Light's earlier products) will appeal to even lower income families —those living on less than $3 a day.
ANOTHER UPDATE: As it turns out D.Light will be featured in an upcoming documentary called The New Recruits about a group of business school graduates who travel to some of the most poverty-stricken and volatile countries in an effort to use capitalism to effect social change. The film is funded by the PBS Foundation through a grant from the Skoll Foundation and its directors and producers have a successful track record in award-winning documentary filmmaking having made such documentaries as The Linguists, America Rebuilds: A Year at Ground Zero, and The Trial of Adolf Eichmann. The New Recruits is expected to be released in January 2010.