How many people does it take to replace a 19th-century kerosene lantern with a 21st-century solar lamp?
Cosmos Ignite Innovations proves it takes two.
One, Matthew Scott, led the design and development of a solar lamp when he was a student at Stanford Business School in 2003. The lamp is based on light-emitting diode (LED) technology, which uses much less electricity than incandescent bulbs or fluorescent tubes.
Scott initially intended for the lamps to be used in commercial buildings or aircraft. Then he read The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid and changed his approach. This book by C.K. Prahalad describes the commercial opportunities offered by the 2.5 billion people in the world who live on less than $2.50 per day. Upon reading the book, Scott decided to reach some of them with his lamp.
That’s when his old Stanford friend, Amit Chugh, came into the picture. Scott asked Chugh, who had business-management experience, to help him redesign the lamp for the poor in Chugh’s home country, India, where millions of people rely on hazardous, polluting kerosene lanterns for light. Scott and Chugh formed a joint venture, Cosmos Ignite Innovations, with offices in the Silicon Valley in California and New Delhi. Scott secured financial backing from an experienced venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, and Chugh went to local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in India to test the lamp.
Mighty Lights For The Masses
“It was a bridge between a high-tech hub and market of millions of poor craving a better life,” Chugh said.
The lamp, named MightyLight, is a multifunctional, waterproof, shockproof, solar LED lamp capable of holding an eight-hour charge. It’s also designed to last 100,000 hours. Cosmos Ignite started selling it in India at $50 a unit in 2006.
Chugh said he and Scott were driven by the desire to “give back to society and feel good about it in the process.” Initially, they sold MightyLights through NGOs, international agencies and the Indian government. But later they signed on two commercial distributors. “What we wanted was a commercial enterprise that would make our venture sustainable over time,” Chugh said.
He established design and assembly operations in Gurgaon, India, and has worked with Scott to make their lamp cheaper because many Indian poor couldn’t afford it at the original price. An improved, brighter model sells for $25. The firm also started bundling the product with micro-credit to make it even more affordable.
Expanding The Light
The company has expanded the product line that now includes solar home lighting and street lights.
“The idea is to increase social impact rather than profits,” Chugh said. “From the outset you have to realize that you’re not going to be a millionaire.”
When fishermen and weavers started using MightyLights to extend their work hours, Chugh knew he and Scott were on the right track. “And when you know that, every challenge is exciting,” he said.
Backing (n): In this text, describes the action to sponsor or provide money to support a project.
- It is only because of the financial backing of a venture capitalist that the designer managed to launch his product.
Fluorescent (adj.): Describes the way light is emitted when electricity flows through a tube filled with a specific type of gas.
- Fluorescent lights are common in office buildings.
Hub (n): A place or entity that represents the center of an activity or a region.
- The two hubs of the business venture are located in Silicon Valley and Quito.
Incandescent (adj.): Something that heats and emits light.
- When she turned on the light, the incandescent bulb illuminated the room.
Kerosene (n): A liquid fuel derived from petroleum used for lamps or other applications.
- The lamp ran out of kerosene; we’ll buy more kerosene today.
Outset (n): The beginning or start of something.
- At the outset of his business venture, she went to nongovernmental groups in Mexico to test the design.
Weaver (n): A person who uses fabric to create a piece of clothing or textiles.
- A skilled weaver can produce a fine material in complex designs.