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Case Code: LDEN130
Case Length: 15 Pages 
Period: 2017    
Pub Date: 2018
Teaching Note: Available
Price: Rs.400
Organization : Solight Design
Industry : Solar Lighting
Countries : India
Case Studies  
Business Strategy
Human Resource Management
IT and Systems
Leadership & Entrepreneurship

Solight Design: A Humble Initiative to Spread Light

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Chun’s inspiration for creating the SoalrPuff was not linear but rather a mishmash of multiple events fused together. In 2006, Chun was sitting with her son in a Children’s hospital in New York. The kid suffered with severe asthma . She expressed her concerns about how they had to go to the hospital quite frequently, where she saw several children with asthma, allergies, and severe breathing conditions, with steroids being pumped down their throat. She was worried about the children as she explained that it was not the case during her childhood. She wanted to go to the roots of the problem to understand it completely. “A worried mom does better research than the FBI,” said Chun, as she delved into research in order to find out the causes of the disease..

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In 2011, post the disaster in Haiti, Chun started field-testing her prototype of solar lantern which she had designed with her students’ help. The prototype was that of an inflatable solar lamp, which had a mouth-nozzle meant to blow open the item. But Chun rejected the model because she identified two major issues with the model. Firstly, she disliked the mouth-nozzle as it would not be hygienic and safe to use, especially when multiple people had to share it during crisis situations. “I decided that the inflatable model, with a mouth-nozzle, was not good for third-world areas. When disaster strikes, sanitation is a big issue: cholera, Ebola, and now the Zika virus can all be transmitted through saliva - so I wanted to get rid of that mouth nozzle.” Secondly, the professor felt that the prototype did not meet her strict aesthetic standards. “It didn’t really look like a lantern or a nice object that could sit on a table with dignity. They were ugly, first ones are always ugly. I kept redesigning it until I used the principles of origami,” Chun explained about the surprising use of her childhood hobby...


Solight Design was founded by Chun primarily with the aim of delivering affordable solar lighting and thereby offering more sustainable power solutions to the world. The company’s mission was “To provide clean sustainable light and power to those who need them most.” Chun revealed that while most of the people around the world take light for granted, there were still over 1.6 billion people, which included many struggling with poverty, refugee status and those affected by natural disasters and other catastrophes, who lacked electricity and clean, sustainable lighting. The mission was set so because Chun believed that it was very crucial to spread light to those suffering in darkness...


Chun believed that the compact and durable nature of the SolarPuff makes it an ideal aid for the economically and disaster-challenged communities. “One of the things I realized in disaster relief is that you need something that is very portable and lightweight,” said Chun. Apart from helping the people of Haiti and Nepal in times of crisis, Chun had been helping the Syrian refugees, whose influx into safer European nations had increased from 2016 due to the on-going Syrian War at that time. Chun had also spent considerable time at the refugee camps, mainly in Greece, helping them by providing them with free SolarPuffs..


The SolarPuff, currently available in Japan and the US, can be purchased from Solight Design for $30. Explaining about the market for the SolarPuffs, Chun said, “The solar light industry - it’s a huge market. It’s a B.O.P. market - a bottom-of-the-pyramid market. But we’re struggling, because we need to scale up so that we can get our costs down, so that people that are living on $2 a day can afford to buy this light.” Chun also explained how the ‘foldable’ feature of the puff helped them to pack up to 120 lights in a single box, thereby reducing the cost of distribution at the same time supplying lights in bulk quantities to the disaster-stricken areas. “Foldability and low cost is critical as the ability to package hundreds of the Puff as opposed to a dozen of the solar flash lights. I have been working religiously trying to get the cost down so that everyone without access to a grid can afford the solar light Puff. The Puff does just that,” added Chun.


Despite the emotional significance she had witnessed while field-testing her product, Chun wasn’t quite prepared for the rigors of a startup. She had been used to the world of academia and hence did not possess any real time experience in starting or running a business. “It’s very difficult being a single mom with three jobs and I didn’t know anything about being an entrepreneur… There were many times I could have given up but I didn’t because of my son,” she reflected.


Apart from continuing to expand the reach for her solar lantern, Chun also kept tabs on the many refugees who depended on her invention. Chun was elated to see the positive impact her invention had on people’s lives. She quoted one such example of a young, female Yazidi refugee who had arrived at a Greece camp with severe burns and hypothermia. She recalled how the refugee who befriended her at the camp left after three months of healing, for safer and a more permanent home across the European borders. After eight months, Chun received a note from the young girl, which had a photo of her sitting with the SolarPuff at the table, at her new home in Germany.


Exhibit I: Global Fossil Fuel Consumption by Fossil Fuel Source
Exhibit II: Different Product Varieties by Solight Design
Exhibit III: Lack of Access to Electricity (% of Population) – World (Estimates of 2015)
Exhibit IV: Solar Energy Statistics
Exhibit V: Fund-Raising/Donation Options by Solight Design (in 2016 and 2017) through Kickstarter Campaign