In the wake of the earthquake that decimated Haiti in 2010, Anna Stork and Andrea Sresha pooled their architecture and design backgrounds into creating a waterproof, inflatable solar light that flat packs. Then after successfully crowdfunding, they distributed 1000 of solar lanterns to people in Haiti who had been living the dark.
“Andrea and I were both getting our masters degrees in architecture from Columbia University when we came up with the idea for a pack flat solar lantern,” Anna tells Collective Hub. “It was in January 2010, right after the Haiti earthquake. We saw a need for a lighting product that could be shipped in volume after an emergency and provide a level of comfort and safety to the victims.
“In architecture school, there is a large emphasis on prototyping and iterating [so we] spent that semester working together on prototyping the product and pitching the idea through images, drawings, and prototypes to our classmates and professors.”
After painstakingly analysing and deciding on the right batteries, solar panel and LED options and materials to use in the project with no frame of reference due to the distinct lack of products that fuse electronics and soft plastics, the duo set about testing the finished product in real world situations.
“We field tested our handmade prototypes when we graduated by travelling to India and distributed the lights. We spoke to customers very early on to ask them what was most important to them.”
LuminAID was a hit, especially with ABC’s Shark Tank, where the girls received offers from all five sharks for their revolutionary product. The duo eventually landed with business powerhouse Mark Cuban, who Anna says “saw our vision for the technology and we appreciated this.”
“The technology focuses on the innovation of solar inflatable. Our vision for this has always been to continue to explore different designs and applications,” Anna explans. “Mark Cuban saw this potential in the pitch and he posed the question, ‘What else can you do with this?’ We liked that he challenged us and look forward to continue to expand our product line.”
The girls received a boost of another kind when they saw their product being put to use, for the first time, on the front line of a disaster area when they travelled to Malawi in November 2015.
“Andrea and I travelled to Malawi with one of our larger customers, ShelterBox,” Anna says. “This was our first time since launching the product where we have had the opportunity to go to a post-disaster region and see the lights in use firsthand. It was powerful and motivating for us to see our product in the hands of people who had been affected by the flooding there.”
In addition to learning the impact their product can make, what else have the former architects leant about building a business from scratch, with no prior experience on the subject?
“I would suggest early on that you find ways to share your vision, get feedback, and test it,” Anna says. “We did crowdfunding and entered many business plan competitions to raise funding and test out our idea.
I also think it’s really important to push to get your product out in the field as soon as you can. It is never going to be perfect the first time, but it’s important to get it out there and learn from that first step. [Also] talk to customers early on, even if it’s not to sell to them, but just to build partnerships with them and learn what they need.”