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Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Inventions: Base Lantern

Jonathan Cedar cofounder of BioLite
Jonathan Cedar. Photograph courtesy of Biolite.

“Many people know us for our breakthrough stoves, but ultimately that is just one dimension of BioLite and our vision to bring energy everywhere,” writes CEO and cofounder Jonathan Cedar ’03 on his company blog. “We are committed to designing off-grid technologies.”

This magazine first reported on BioLite four years ago when the company had modest ambitions: Cedar, who majored in engineering, and business partner Alec Drummond wanted to make a camping stove that didn’t burn gas or use batteries.

Since 2012 Brooklyn-based BioLite has grown from a camp-stove maker into a social enterprise that recently raised $5 million in growth capital. What captured the attention of the venture capitalists has been the company’s inventive approach to meeting energy needs: a process called “parallel innovation.”

“What if we used our experience with camping and our aspirations to help improve energy poverty to mutually reinforce one another,” blogged Cedar in recounting the history of the idea. “As we began to understand the synergies between our camping and emerging market customers, our business model emerged—parallel innovation.”

Photograph courtesy of Biolite.

BioLite invents energy technologies and markets them in parallel to poor rural families and to campers from rich countries.

“We re-invest revenues from our camping market into our work in India and Sub-Saharan Africa,” says Cedar. “The success or failure of our work lays entirely in the hands of our users in both markets. It is a form of social enterprise, bolstered by the merging of two distinct audiences, bonded by the common need for off-grid energy.”

BioLite’s business model is based on selling products that meet the needs of rural consumers at a price they can afford. This business plan has caught the attention of venture capitalists (including the Disruptive Innovation Fund), banks, and 4,860 backers who recently pledged more than $816,966 on Kickstarter for BioLite’s soon-to-be released BaseLantern.

The BaseLantern is the Swiss Army knife of the digital era. It is the first backpacker lantern that uses Bluetooth, creates a tiny power grid, lights a campsite for up to 114 hours, and charges a phone or other device via two USB ports. An optional solar panel can keep the lantern charged on the trail.

And as treehugger raves: “One of the cool added features of the BaseLantern is proximity activation. If you turn on that setting in the smartphone app, the lantern will turn on when you’re within its proximity. As someone who often camps in state parks with my kids and has struggled to find our campsite when making the trek back from the bathroom in the dark, this is basically worth the price alone.”

How’s that for disruptive innovation?

—Lee Michaelides

Categories: Inventions

Tags: alumni, energy, entrepreneurship

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