On the 12 January 2010, a catastrophic earthquake struck the Caribbean island of Hispaniola; its epicentre just 16 miles outside Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Over the following week, more than 52 aftershocks rumbled across the country, laying waste to more than a quarter of a million homes and taking the lives of an estimated 160,000 people.

In a bid to add their expertise to the effort, a pair of design graduates from Chicago set about creating a product to assist the post-disaster relief operations. With the primary survival needs of food, water and shelter already in hand, their thoughts turned to the night-time dangers that haunted the cities of emergency tents. With this came their solution; LuminAID.

Limitless light sources

Engineer and architecture graduate, Anna Stork, along with her friend and colleague, Andrea Shresta, are the co-founders of LuminAID; a lightweight, solar-powered light that packs flat and inflates in seconds. It was originally designed to fit into aid packs and give instant access to light.

Once they had their bright idea, the pair got to work, designing, building and testing their first 50 prototypes by hand. With a patent for their design underway, the girls headed out to Hyderabad in India to test the light in the field. In 2011, Anna and Andrea launched their first LuminAID light on the crowdfunding website, IndieGoGo, raising 500% of their initial fundraising goal.

The original inflatable lantern emits light at around 65 lumens, illuminating an area up to 125 square feet around it. The packable lantern recharges fully in between 7 and 10 hours of sunshine, with each full charge giving up to 30 hours of light. When packed down, the lantern is a little larger than a credit card, complete with solar charging panel. It can then be clipped to a backpack while hiking or hung in a sunny spot to charge. The super-efficient solar panels even work on overcast days, meaning light is not lost when it’s needed most.

Into the shark-tank

By 2012, the organisation had delivered more than 1000 LuminAID lights to Haiti as part of their ‘Give light, get light’ programme. For each light bought through the programme, LuminAID send another to those who need it. Partnering with NGOs such as Doctors without Borders, Adventurers for Change and the UK-based charity, Shelterbox, LuminAID lights have been used in more than 70 countries worldwide. Packed into aid-boxes, the lights have been deployed after natural disasters such as hurricane Sandy, typhoon Haiyan and the earthquakes in Nepal.

Following the success of the original lanterns, LuminAID have expanded their product range, developing a series of lanterns for use at festivals, campsites and even around the home and garden.   The pair even appeared on America’s ABC programme, ‘Shark Tank’; an entrepreneur investment format, known in the UK as ‘Dragon’s Den’. Seeking financial backing for their water-proof solar light, Anna and Andrea received offers from all five ‘sharks’, before cutting a final deal with billionaire businessman, Mark Cuban.

Alison Wallace, CEO of ShelterBox said: “ShelterBox continually scans the market for products that will help families overwhelmed by disaster. LuminAID is a very clever product, and we are pleased to have been among its earliest backers. I’m not at all surprised that Anna and Andrea won support on the American ‘Dragon’s Den’, and we’ll be watching these young inventors to see what they come up with next.”

Images courtesy of © ShelterBox.

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