Portable Lanterns Create Light and Buzz

Published on August 21, 2013

Full-Time student Andrea Sreshta, whose inflatable lantern LuminAID won the 2012 John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge, hasn’t had much time to bask in the glow of her start-up’s success. 

This summer, Sreshta and partner Anna Stork launched a campaign that donated 500 lanterns to relief workers in developing regions and disaster areas. Among the benefitting groups was a project that offers classes to girls in rural Rwanda.  Additional lanterns were donated to Operation Outreach Afghanistan, a group of deployed United States service members providing relief to Afghani civilians. 

Relatively inexpensive and lightweight—10 lights weigh less than two pounds—the lanterns are comprised of a solar cell, rechargeable lithium-polymer ion battery, and one LED bulb. LuminAID requires six to seven hours in the sun for a full charge, which provides up to 16 hours of light. 

The lanterns have been a boon in devastated areas that lack electricity, and Sreshta hopes demand from the outdoor recreation market will be strong enough to make the enterprise profitable.

Seeing a chance to emulate the “buy one, give one” model popularized by TOMS shoes, LuminAID now has sent thousands of donated lights to nonprofits and NGOs in 15 countries through its “Give Light, Get Light” campaign. An early partnership with the United Nations lent the burgeoning start-up credibility and name recognition.

Sreshta and LuminAID have received recent media coverage in the Financial Times, BBC, Outside magazine, and the Chicago Tribune.

LuminAID was created by Sreshta and Stork as a school project in the wake of Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake. But it wasn’t until 2011 during Japan’s post-quake power outages that the pair saw firsthand the widespread need for a portable, rechargeable light source. 

Next up is “laying the groundwork to push the product commercially,” Sreshta said, “and learning to work with the right people in existing distribution networks.” Manufacturing and marketing efforts will be aided by a $100,000 prize for winning first place in the United States Department of Energy’s Clean Energy Challenge. 

With her final term at Booth before her, Sreshta sees an opportunity to ramp up distribution and product development. “My classmates who have graduated are traveling the world with the lights, leaving some behind, and sending back pictures and reviews.”—Alexandra Batty