Guest Articles

June 9

Kyle Poplin

The Podcast: When Life Hits You In the Head With a Brick …

Cookstove entrepreneur Max Chinnah: To be successful, you have to grind

How does a young man born and raised in Nigeria end up attending a tiny, rural college in Iowa and then somehow get the idea that he can change the world’s renewable energy sector? Well, it’s an interesting story. So interesting, in fact, that we included Max Chinnah – proud 2015 graduate of Wartburg College and CEO and co-founder of Terraoak Inc. – in NextBillion’s growing stable of podcast participants.

CookstoveWhat you’ll notice when listening to Chinnah is that he’s passionate about the world’s indoor smoke pollution problem and Terraoak’s solution: The Genesys Cooker (left), which burns clean and generates enough power to both cook and charge cell phones. That passion might explain why Chinnah and his co-founder, Godwin Attigah, won the $10,000 Innovation Prize at Unite for Sight’s Global Health & Innovation Conference at Yale University in April. The startup also has received funding from The Resolution Project, Duke Energy and the Iowa Renewable Energy Association, and won an innovation video competition sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Smoke pollution kills an estimated 4 million people every year, and Chinnah’s grandmother was among them. Though he was young when she died, the experience still serves as motivation. “I didn’t think it was enough to just graduate (college) with a degree. I just needed to have more out of life,” he said. “Each and every one of us, we have an existential mandate.” The cookstove is his.

He also talks openly in the podcast about his experience raising money. “This is a really tough and sometimes excruciating life to lead, this entrepreneur lifestyle,” he says. “If you think about it, no one in their logical, rational mind would want to continue going forward and pushing on, especially when life hits you in the head with a brick. … There must be a driving force that propels you to keep going. A lot of that comes from intrinsic motivation. You’ve just got to get off your duff and keep on grinding.”

And he also talks about how he views the Genesys Cooker as a versatile, high-end product well worth the $400 he’ll initially charge in emerging economies. “Folks in developing societies, they know a product that works efficiently adds value to their lives. And they also want a product that is cool,” he says. “Folks in the most rural of areas, they happen to be the savviest customers.” He’s counting on those customers recognizing that Genesys can save them thousands of dollars annually in fuel costs and electricity generation. Plus, he says proudly, they’ll recognize that the Genesys, which he helped design, fits the “cool” bill.

There’s a lot more. Terraoak has plans to sell the Genesys in developing countries, too – to campers, sports fans and farmers, say – and to implement a buy-one-give-one mode. Chinnah unabashedly says he’s out to change the world. Based on his enthusiasm, you might not want to bet against him.


Top photo: Global Health & Innovation Conference $10,000 Innovation Prize winner Max Chinnah, left, with $2,000 winners Jason Kang from Kinnos, center, and Adrian Lievano from Everwaters. Photo courtesy of Unite for Sight


Health Care, Social Enterprise
social enterprise