UK based charity ShelterBox is always on the lookout for products that will help in the world’s disaster zones. Ingenious ‘luminAID’ provides lighting and security where power lines are down – and it also provided a light bulb moment on the US version of Dragon’s Den.
The contents of the famous green ShelterBox always fascinate – our specially-designed family tent, water filtration equipment, cooking utensils, even activities for children.
But recently one of our brightest finds has been ‘luminAID’, a compact solar charged LED unit which inflates to become an adaptable light source for families left in the dark after disaster has cut off power supplies.
luminAID’s inventors, architecture and engineering design graduates Andrea Sreshta and Anna Stork, have now told viewers of US television network ABC that ‘ShelterBox is one of our largest customers’. Andrea and Anna namechecked the charity on the popular American version of Dragon’s Den, known there as ‘Shark Tank’.
ShelterBox has bought over 26,000 luminAIDs in the last ten months, and will be sending 1,500 to Cyclone Pam victims in Vanuatu this week.
And the ‘sharks’ were very impressed indeed with the young inventors’ pitch. Consumer product entrepreneur Lori Greiner said ‘It’s brilliantly designed, I’m super impressed. This product can actually change the world. I love products that make the world a better place for people that are in hard situations.’
With five offers on the table, a rare event on the Emmy Award-winning programme Shark Tank, Andrea and Anna eventually cut a valuable investment deal with sports, movie and cable TV mogul, billionaire Mark Cuban. ‘Mark really saw the vision for the technology and the company. Being invited onto Shark Tank was a dream come true for us. We’re so excited for the future of LuminAID.’
Tipped off by a Rotarian in Canada back in 2011, ShelterBox Operations Director John Leach found luminAID via crowdfunding website Indiegogo. John says, ‘I bought two samples from them back then to see how they compared to other samples we had from other manufacturers. As a result, Andrea Sreshta and Anna Stork called me to discuss what they were trying to do, and to get some advice. We’ve stayed in touch ever since.’
ShelterBox has included solar lighting in its aid packages before, but with space, weight and durability as key criteria luminAID has now become its product of choice. 50 luminAID packages can fit into the same space that eight torches would occupy.
On the luminAID company website the inventors say ‘A milestone for the company came in 2013 when we worked with ShelterBox to distribute luminAIDs to victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.’
Two weeks after the Haiti earthquake in January 2010, Chicago-based students Anna and Andrea set out to design a lighting product that could be easily distributed in times of emergency. There was nothing on the market that could pack flat or be easily dispatched in volume, and they realised that such a product could improve the comfort and safety of disaster victims. A year later, the two found themselves in Tokyo on a class trip during one of the worst earthquakes ever recorded. ‘Our experience in Tokyo was a catalyst for us to bring this technology to market.’ ShelterBox, which had been active in both Haiti and Japan, picked up on their ground-breaking idea in the same year.
luminAID has already won awards and startup cash from business competitions, including the 2013 Clean Energy Challenge, Chicago Booth New Venture Challenge, the 2014 Toyota ‘Mothers of Invention’, and a prize at the Chicago Innovation Awards. Last summer it was also featured in a White House showcase for technological and scientific achievements, hosted by President Obama.
ShelterBox CEO Alison Wallace says, ‘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 American Dragon’s Den, and we’ll be watching these young inventors to see what they come up with next.’
See Andrea Sreshta and Anna Stork on ABC’s Shark Tank .