How BioLite Plans to Cook Up Clean Profits
Former design engineer Jonathan Cedar thinks he's figured out a market-based solution to address health and energy needs in developing countries.
His venture, BioLite, has developed two cooking stoves that can generate electricity in a cost- and energy-efficient way. All that's needed is just twigs and pine cones.
"Our product generates electricity from the waste heat of the fire, and with that is able to deliver a 90 percent reduction in emissions while also charging mobile phones and LED lights," Cedar said. Users can plug the phones and lights directly into the stove.
According to the World Health Organization, three billion people still cook on open, smokey fires. Additionally, over six billion people now use a mobile phone, of which nearly five billion are in developing countries, according to the World Bank. That's the marketplace Cedar is targeting with HomeStove.
BioLite plans to sell HomeStove in emerging markets and has already launched pilot programs in India and Sub-Saharan Africa. Since marketing could be a challenge, Cedar said he will partner with organizations who know the landscape.
"We work with local retailers in those markets who really understand their communities, who already have a proven model of distribution for energy and energy related products ... so it's a partnership model," he said.
BioLite's second product is CampStove—a much smaller version of the HomeStove that can literally fit in the palm of your hand.
The company is marketing this product in the U.S. and Europe for outdoor recreational use and emergency preparedness. The time the CampStove takes to charge a phone is about the same speed as a laptop. That may deter people who are accustomed to faster charge time, but for the price point of $129.95, Cedar said it's "a speed that most consumers seem comfortable with."
While Campstove is currently available on BioLite's website, the company plans to have the product in REI and other large scale retailers this spring.
BioLite faces competition from several industries—including solar companies and makers of traditional camping stoves. But Cedar said what makes his company different is its unique business model, proprietary core technology, non-reliance on fossil fuels and its ability to be an on-demand resource.
(Read More: Q&A with BioLite)
BioLite has raised nearly $2 million dollars from investors like the Disruptive Innovation Fund, run by author and Harvard Business School Professor Clay Christensen, and Toniic, an international impact investor network.
—By CNBC's Erin Barry and Marqui Mapp