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Dead Phone Battery? Just Burn Something.
Nov 13, 2012 | by Brian X. Chen | The New York Times
After Hurricane Sandy knocked out power in the Northeast, a New York start-up came up with a good publicity stunt: light a fire so people could charge their dead cellphones.
BioLite, a 15-person company based in Brooklyn, sells a $130 camp stove that doubles as a power source. You light a fire inside a metal fuel chamber, where a thermoelectric generator converts the heat into electricity to run a fan. The fan blows air into the fire to oxygenate it and create a clean burn. The generator also powers a USB port for charging phones and other electronics.
Erica Rosen, director of marketing at BioLite, said company employees set up a table with the stoves in spots like Washington Square Park in Lower Manhattan, where many people were still without power. They offered hot drinks to people as they gathered around the stoves to charge their dead phones. The stoves got plenty of attention from passers-by, including the police, who ordered BioLite to stop.
“It was going really well until the cops showed up, and we packed up and made our way back,” Ms. Rosen said. “I can sympathize with them — we’re in a disaster emergency, and here come a group of people with literally a table that’s on fire.”
Founded by two designers, Jonathan Cedar’03, [Jonathan den Hartog ’03 Th’05,] and Alec Drummond, BioLite received $1.8 million in financing in December from the foundation led by Clayton Christensen, author of “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” It sells the stoves in 70 countries with the goal of popularizing a cheaper, cleaner approach for the three billion people around the world who cook on open fires. The company declined to say how many stoves it had sold, but said sales were in the tens of thousands.
It’s a bit of an unusual start-up in a time when many entrepreneurs are trying to strike it rich with the next great app for smartphones. “Software is great at making life efficient, but many of life’s most basic needs are still served by physical objects,” Mr. Cedar said.
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