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The founders and team at MPOWERD have created their company with a vision toward lighting the world. Their creativity has combined the technologies behind LED, solar and even a simple beach ball to invent a clean energy source and inflatable solar light that fits in the palm of your hand. This innovation came about after the founders recognized that billions of people around the world are deprived of light after the sun goes down. The vast majority of the people in developing or low-income generating countries are otherwise forced to turn to expensive kerosene lamps that are not only dangerous to the people using them, but to the environment as a whole. There had to be a better solution.
Luci is the company’s flagship product- a small, affordable and inflatable light that uses the power of the sun to provide clean and safe solar energy to people in need. Whether for school kids trying to do their homework at night in impoverished areas of the world or for those in developed countries that hope for a healthier environment, Luci is a one-stop solution for affordable, clean energy. And while MPOWERD’s mission is based around creating innovative and affordable products to help people fit clean energy into their daily lives (MPOWERD- Luci Inflatable Solar Lights. (n.d.). Retrieved April 28, 2016, from https://mpowerd.com), their broader vision was clear throughout my research and interviews with the Founder and two of his key lieutenants.
John Salzinger (Founder), Mehmet Mailmail (Ops/Strat Planning) and Josh Multer (Social Research/Insights) were all very consistent when I asked what MPOWERD was playing for long-term. All three talked about their upbringing and appreciation for people and relating to those around the world who didn’t have the things we take for granted every day. It was a passion for people and taking advantage of the planet’s natural resources to make the world a better place for everyone. And while Luci certainly helps MPOWERD to live up to this mission, that is not the only innovative aspect of this unique company.
What struck me about John and his team was their innovative business model. This model uses strong retail sales in developed nations to lower their manufacturing costs and, in-turn, allows the company to offer their solar innovation to the roughly 1.5 billion people around the world living without electricity at a cost each community can actually afford, no matter what that cost may be. They stand by this belief, as MPOWERD often hosts initiatives in which they work with their network of over 200 NGO and charity partners to give away one light to a developing country for each one it sells in the US and other developed countries.
It is rare to hear of anything good coming out of a catastrophe as tragic as the 2010 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti that killed over 250,000+, displaced more than 1.5 million, and damaged or destroyed close to 4,000 schools on the island of Hispaniola. From tragedy, came the inspiration for an invention called Luci. Named after the Italian word for light, Luci (pronounced like Lucy) is an inflatable solar light, with the goal of making an affordable clean energy product that people can use in any situation — from outdoor camping adventures to backyard parties to everyday living for people in developing countries without electricity (MPOWERD- Luci Inflatable Solar Lights. (n.d.). Retrieved April 28, 2016, from https://mpowerd.com).
Luci is the brainchild of John Salzinger and five other Co-Founders. A life-changing trip to Haiti in 2012 exposed John to a world he could not have imagined. His comments are summarized as follows: “In 2012, we landed in Port-au-Prince and it wasn’t just damage from an earthquake we witnessed, but also years of neglect, 3 million plus people, kids sitting in puddles with no waste management. I remember all the things that were going on in my life at that time, I thought I had problems, and then I came to this place and it just changed my outlook. I always knew I had it in me, but seeing human suffering first hand and realizing how lucky we are solidified it for me. That trip was eye-opening and reinforced the thoughts and beliefs I had.” John and his team at MPOWERD are now stewards of innovation for the betterment of the world through clean energy. Luci, however, is just the start for this budding NYC based company.
In developed countries, we take light for granted. For me, it is something I have never had to live without. When I think about those daily activities that happen after the sun goes down and how I might function without lighting and electricity, it becomes a frightening thought. These are challenges people in third-world or developing countries face every day. Whether it is studying, eating dinner, performing chores or getting ready for the next day’s activities, life would be incredibly difficult to navigate without adequate lighting. What becomes even more frightening is people have no other options except to use kerosene lamps. Not only are these kerosene lamps a fire hazard for these villages, but they are expensive to operate and create substantial air pollution. Luci’s small size, durable frame and ability to charge in sunlight allows people around the world to see at night, have a clean energy source, and have a safe, alternative means to light their homes.
The impacts on a world facing the indisputable effects of climate change are many. Clean energy is a topic we read about every day and especially during this election season here in the US. MPOWERD is not the first company to capitalize on the tenants of clean energy, however, their unique idea to bring together the likes of solar, LED, and inflatable technologies into a single object that fits in the palm of your hand is one-of-a-kind and transforms how we see in some of the world’s darkest days.
The biggest impact of this innovation in the 21st century is the business model that MPOWERD and others like it employ. Both Josh Multer and John Salzinger referenced another NYC business called Warby Parker. Like MPOWERD, they are looking to help solve a world problem by providing reading glasses to people in developing countries who have vision problems, but can’t afford glasses. For every pair of glasses they sell in developed countries (for-profit), they give a pair away to someone in need. These innovative business models allow great companies like MPOWERD to grow and make significant impacts on our environment and people who lack the daily resources needed to live a normal life. Can you imagine if all for-profit businesses around the world made the commitment MPOWERD makes to those in need? And while Luci is MPOWERD’s current product in the market, John talked about R&D aspirations to expand this business model with other innovative products that will make a difference in the world like Luci is today.
One doesn’t have to look far in order to see the impact MPOWERD is having around the world. By the numbers, MPOWERD has now distributed 200,000+ Luci lights, partnered with 200+ Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) clients, distributed products in 100+ countries, and proudly claims to have impacted 1,000,000+ lives. Additionally, they have been written about in some of the most prominent periodicals, such as: The Huffington Post, Forbes, National Geographic, and The Wall Street Journal to name a few. They have been highlighted on CNN and CBS News.
After speaking with John, Josh and Mehmet, I am of the opinion that these accolades are not what drive them. What drives them is a genuine passion for making an impact and feeling good about what they and their company stand for in the world. Josh Multer said, “There are a million jobs in NYC, but when I go home, I feel good about what I have done. It’s a group effort, it’s new, and it speaks to the idea of giving back.” It is a common sentiment that I heard throughout my meetings with John, Josh and Mehmet.
MPOWERD’s Luci innovation and unique business model should be employed by other for-profit businesses. The power of this business model will have strong talent implications. By the year 2020, millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce. It will be important for companies to realize this generation of professionals is more interested in making a difference around the world than any previous generation.
MPOWERD is a company with a business model that allows for professionals to not only face exciting challenges and conduct business in a way that is engaging, but also serve a bigger purpose. When asked about the advice he would give to this next generation of business innovators, John Salzinger said, “Put yourself in other people’s shoes and look at life and business problems through other people’s lenses. Leadership is about being inclusive, collaborative and showing understanding. When you smile, someone else smiles.” These are not sentiments you find in business leaders in many companies today. I believe that MPOWERD is ripe for success in the future with a leader that sees the world the way John Salzinger does. As more young business professionals and entrepreneurs hear leaders like John, Mehmet, and Josh from MPOWERD talk about the importance of business in the 21st century, we will see additional for-profit companies that are seeking to impact the world through business.
Mehmet Mailmail discussed the future by saying, “In ten years my dream would be a world where we utilize resources freely available to us, such as solar technology, not something that is killing our planet. A world everyone can benefit from.” The Luci solar light is a great example of how companies like MPOWERD can fill a need around the world in a safe, cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way.
The broader value will be to invest in companies like MPOWERD to ensure their thinking, ideas, and future R&D products make it to the market. Having a product like Luci is amazing, but think of a world having thousands of such products from companies interested in using their businesses and products to drive large-scale change. Lighting is one of the world’s big challenges in developing countries today. Other areas, such as clean water, nutritious foods, eyewear, clothing, and medicine are all opportunities needing further attention.
MPOWERD is the type of company that will help identify innovative ways we can safely use the world’s free resources to drive solutions in the future for the people of our planet. With the millennial generation becoming a more prominent force in today’s business economy, I am confident we are on the right path.
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John Salzinger, Co-Founder and Chief Business Development Officer