The idea was born during a hike in the mountains in the northern part of the Philippines. The lack of a sustainable and inexpensive lighting system for the local population of the country was triggering them to come up with a solution. And they found one. Raphael and Aisa Mijeno, brother and sister, developed a metal-air based energy source that uses salt water as the medium to generate electricity. Together they run their social enterprise called SALt, the acronym for Sustainable Alternative Lighting. Their mission is to address the light inequality gap between people who have electricity and people who have not. We had the opportunity to speak with Raphael about his journey with SALt.
The experience encouraged us to reflect on ways to alleviate the lighting burden of the tribe, commencing the research in University Engineering Department. Although there were tons of difficult challenges through its development from lack of equipment and tools, to the acquisition of chemical compounds, we were able to overcome all of them due to a tremendous amount of support from people who believed in the vision.
With the light emitted by the first prototype, you could barely read a book. We did arduous engineering testing and gathered data from our early adopters to improve the efficiency of the lantern. So far, we have done six iterations to attain our design and functionality goals. Seeing the latest improvements in terms of efficiency, we are even more thrilled to produce more products based on the technology. And this what makes our solution unique, because we have created a long-term and sustainable solution that is scalable both business and technology-wise. In comparison with other products, the lifespan is ten times longer. It is cheaper and it is therefore accessible to a broader audience.
Having a degree in Business Administration/Management does not guarantee a successful venture, and I must admit, it has been a tough journey but inspiring at the same time for us. They say experience is the best teacher and I could not agree more. You have to develop a lot of skills, you have to do everything on your own and it is a constant learning process. Nevertheless, it is also the most satisfying work because we have created something bigger than ourselves. This is not just a venture to make a profit of; this is community building, community development. The responsibility may be even bigger than running a traditional business, but what makes us push forward is seeing the positive impact we bring the society. And working with someone you have known all your life to bring positive change to the world is even more fulfilling.
The success rate of the pilot testing could probably be traced on how we approached the product development. Giving heedful attention not just on technology but also user behavior has created an upward impact on SALt’s usability. We discovered, based on several population samples, that the process of pouring the liquid (part of kerosene lantern preparation) is deeply wired into the user’s brain, the very reason why we did not deviate away from the process. But instead of pouring kerosene, you pour salt water.
Our next goal is to transition from low rate production (a very small scale of 20-30 lamps per week) to mass production projecting to have 500 units a day all thanks to our manufacturing partners. Over the course of product development, we were able to close deals essential for the growth of the social enterprise and have partnered with major suppliers and manufacturing industry.
We are at the beginning of our entrepreneurial journey. The Accelerate 2030 week is the most relevant competition that we are going to participate in and we are very much excited about it. For us, this week is not just about the importance of finding essential resources for scaling and sustainability, we are also looking forward to being mentored in aspects we could have missed focusing on, learning strategies and techniques for measuring the impact and ways to sustain the business. The next step would be a crucial point because it would be all about scaling the business, and if we scale the business, we also scale the impact. And we believe that Accelerate 2030 would be able to provide us with impact investors who we can have meaningful partnerships with. At the end of the day, our aim to address the light inequality gap between people who have electricity and people who do not, in the upcoming years.
This article is one in a series in which we get to know the International Finalists of our Accelerate2030 program a little bit better. Accelerate2030 is a 9-month program co-initiated by Impact Hub Geneva and the UNDP with a mission to scale the impact of ventures that contribute towards the Sustainable Development Goals internationally. All nine finalists will be present at the Impact Hub Geneva from the 6th until the 13th of October during the Scaling week.