Tayo Akinyemi

The Delight of d.light Design

d.light’s logoI have a chronic habit of seeking out cool people. Can?t help it; it’s just what I do. A few months ago, I asked one of my friends, a Stanford Graduate School of Business grad, to e-introduce me to a then second year student. We exchanged ideas and information, a process that always makes me happy. Imagine my delight (pun intended) when the aforementioned student e-introduced me to two of his classmates, Sam Goldman and Ned Tozun, founders of d.light design. I was absolutely tickled, and you?ll understand why shortly.

d.light’s mission is to ?develop and commercialize sustainable lighting and power solutions for underserved rural markets in areas without access to electricity.? The d.light team hopes to supplant the use of kerosene and candles, which are ?expensive, inefficient, dangerous, low-quality sources of light.? (Source: http://www.dlightdesign.com/vision.html)Some of you may recall a previous mention by Rob Katz referencing d.light’s participation in the Global Social Venture Competition. But given this happy bit of serendipity, I’ve stepped in for round two.

d.light emerged in the spring of 2006 from a class at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford entitled, ?Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability.? The class assembles students from a variety of backgrounds, including business, engineering and design, to tackle a critical need in the developing world. Not surprisingly, previous sessions of the class have also spawned new enterprises.

The company’s first product, Forever-Bright, will serve as a source of light and power generation for low-income rural households. The light can be charged a number of ways: with standard 100 V or 210 V power, using a diesel generator accessible via rural recharge stations, or with a solar attachment. By replacing a kerosene lamp with Forever-Bright, a consumer can expect to experience:

  • cost savings, to the tune of $150 in income over five years in kerosene costs, equivalent to almost half a year in labor
  • increased safety due to the elimination of accidental fires caused by kerosene lamps
  • better health due to the reduction of indoor air pollution
  • increased productivity as household and livelihood enhancing activities can be performed at night
  • educational advancement derived from high-quality light that facilitates night-time reading
    (Source: http://www.dlightdesign.com/product.html)

The team intends to manufacture lights this summer and will conduct a market test with distributors that serve rural consumers in numerous Asian countries.

Of course all of that sounds great, but how’s the company doing?

From all indications, d.light is taking the venture capital world, social and otherwise, by storm. Within the last three months, it won 2nd place at the Haas School of Business Global Social Venture Competition; took top honors and a $250,000 prize at the Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ) Venture Challenge Competition, ?touted as the nation’s largest winner-take-all contest for startups led by university students?; and captured 1st place in Stanford’s Social E-Challenge business plan competition along with $25,000. This puts d.light $275,000 closer to its $1 million dollar seed funding goal. (That’s a not-so-subtle prod to all of you venture capitalists out there.)

Needless to say, this is a boon to the notion that entrepreneurs, financiers, and the MBA programs that produce them are taking BoP-focused businesses seriously as profit-making ventures. It will be interesting to see how d.light stacks up against the other players, both for profit and nonprofit, in the low-cost lighting sector, including Light Up the World (LUTW) , MightyLights, and the Grameen Surya Bijli Foundation (GSBF), among others. Issues like cost and accessibility will likely be strong differentiators. Check out the following article in the Christian Science Monitor via nextbillion about how these factors play out in rural India.

Finally, perhaps what’s most impressive about d.light is its commitment to creating a profitable venture that truly serves BoP consumers. In the words of Sam Goldman, ?it’s an atrocity that in 2007, one-fourth of the world is still living with a kerosene lantern.? While they could produce a product for U.S. consumers, he added, ?That doesn?t really motivate me and that’s not going to motivate the cutting edge employees that we?re going to hire in the next year either.?

Couldn?t have said it better myself.