Chicago Booth MBA Making Solar-powered Lanterns For Disaster Zones

LuminAID lanterns are a solar-powered, inflatable light thats ideal for emergency light, replacing a kerosene lamp, and camping!

We came across the story of LuminAID Lab, a company co-founded by Chicago Booth MBA Andrea Sreshta and Anna Stork who make incredible solar-powered, floatable and waterproof lanterns.

Andrea, 28, is a second-year MBA student at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business while Anna, 26, works for LuminAID.

The co-founders got the idea to make the lanterns while studying Architecture at Columbia University. They were given an assignment to design a relief product for survivors of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. We thought we’d share some of the interesting things we picked up from interviews with these two ladies!

Technology, design thinking and business acumen can be used to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems
Andrea and Anna believe that in addition to the food, shelter and water commonly sent in disaster relief, light should be included as part of basic aid supplies.

LuminAID lanterns are ideal for use in emergency situations because the lanterns only need four hours of charging in full sunlight to provide up to 6 hours of light on the high setting and 8 hours of light on the low setting. It's very portable at a weight of just 4.5 oz.

The solar circuit has a rechargeable battery that can be recharged up to 800 times, therefore makes a good replacement for kerosene lamps since the charge will hold for up to 6 months, and will provide light for up to three years without the need for replacement batteries.

The lanterns are perfect for recreational outdoor activities but LuminAID dreams of successfully selling to one of the international humanitarian organisations such as the UN or the Red Cross.

It helps to be Maestros at business plan competitions
In the last two years Anna and Andrea have entered six contests and won three. These include reaching the finals for MassChallenge 2012, Global Social Venture Competition, and the Pipeline Fund Competition. They won first place in Columbia Venture Competition, William James Business Plan Competition, and Chicago Booth Social New Venture Challenge.

The Booth Social New Venture Challenge was held in May this year and earned them a USD30,000 cash prize.

They’re also one of three North American finalists in the upcoming Cartier Foundation Women’s Initiative Awards taking place this October.

Anna and Andrea say that competing in business plan competitions has helped them connect with people that could help them, as well as create more awareness about the company.

Bootstrapping and crowdfunding are still necessary for new ventures
Although LuminAID has won USD45,000 from business plan competitions, both ladies have had to discover thrifty ways to reduce costs and to raise funds. In November, they started a crowdfunding campaign on the donation-based website where customers can pay USD25, USD50 or USD100 to purchase a set number of lights, at the same time donating lights to people in need. They raised over USD50,000 in 40 days.

They also borrowed storage space from Andrea’s father, and to save costs on staff, Anna is currently the only employee. Over the summer, they roped in a team of Booth MBA students who earned course credits for creating LuminAID’s pricing and distribution strategy for commercial retail sales.

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