Stories

Empowering Refugees to Create their Own Energy

Startup Spotlight

 

LED Life has developed solar lamps that refugees can put together themselves.  It was one of the seven winners at the MIT Enterprise Forum Innovate for Refugees Competition in partnership with Zain Group and MBC Hope. 

 

By Maya Sioufi

 

Govinda Upadhyay grew up in India and was frustrated by how much learning was affected by the constant power cuts. He wanted to provide students the light they needed in order to pursue their studies.

 

After researching energy access, he concluded that acquiring electricity from companies and governments was limiting access to certain areas. “The challenge was to develop a lamp that anybody can put together,” says Govinda.

 

While studying for his masters in Sustainable energy technology at KTH, Stockholm and TU Eindhoven in the Netherlands four years ago, the idea to develop a solar lamp that can easily be put together started. With over 1.2 billion people who don’t have access to electricity, 28-year-old Govinda says that he wanted “to develop tech for the people, the masses, that is simple to learn”.

 

Govinda did his master thesis on smart electrification in developing countries where he found out that electrification issue is not a technical challenge but more a capacity building issue. He tested this in India and Africa. He then moved to Switzerland to start his phD and established a non-governmental organization in 2014. As his project started gaining more and more traction, winning several awards including Forbes’ 30 Under 30, he dropped out of his phD and focused exclusively on his new company, LED Safari.

 

Solar lamp that children can put together

 

His first product, called LED Life, consists of a solar lamp that is easy to put together and to ship as thousands can fit in a small box. Since the owners are putting them together, if the lamps brake, they can fix them as well.

 

LEDLife also provides training in village for people including children to put the lamp together and sell it. “We create entrepreneurs in the village who can make the lamp and sell it to their people,” says Govinda. The team of four has developed an online platform to provide all their educational training and guides and it is already being used by many schools, organizations and individuals.

 

LEDLife has sold 7,000 units to date with the majority sold in Africa and India; the organization expects to sell 50,000 units by the end of next year. The lamp currently costs $10 but the team is working on bringing down the cost to $5.

 

Now Govinda spends most of his time between Africa and India. He wants to work more with refugees as he sees a big value in refugee camps where energy access can make people feel safer he says.

 

So far the company has been funded through numerous grants including the prize money received from winning one of the top prizes at the MIT Enterprise Forum Innovate for Refugees Competition in partnership with Zain Group and MBC Hope.

 

Next year, the company plans on raising a pre-series A round of funding.  They are now working on their next product: a solar phone charger which they hope to launch in February.