At the Greener Gadgets conference in New York, entrepreneur Mark Bent of SunNight Solar touted his successful electronics business originally launched in Africa. Most technology start-ups aim for early adopters in the developed world who are willing to pay a premium for innovative new features, betting that a successful product will later become appealing to the mainstream consumer market. Bent chose a different path and built a business for the BoGo solar flashlight by designing for refugees and people without electricity living in developing countries.
As a former diplomat, U.S. Marine, and Navy Officer, Bent had spent time in African countries without the infrastructure to generate steady supply of electricity. Farm workers, herders and relief workers tested his early prototypes and gave the kind of real-world feedback needed to turn the product into a rugged and reliable device. The BoGo has since crossed over to the U.S. market, winning fans among outdoor enthusiasts and green consumers.
Bent’s biggest personal reward comes from the customers whose lives are changed by the BoGo light. Families are able to keep the lights on without burning dangerous and environmentally toxic kerosene, creating the opportunity for children to study well past sundown. “It’s kind of tough to put that kind of return on investment into numbers for your business plan,” says Bent, “but it’s certainly one of the things that helps me get excited about getting up in the morning.”