DUMBO-based BioLite is trying to change the world one campfire at a time.
Back in 2006, founders Alec Drummond and Jonathan Cedar met at multi-disciplinary design firm Smart Design and quickly bonded over their passion both for design and energy efficiency.
“At one point, they started talking about efficient camp light stoves because Alec said it required too much energy to start a [traditional] camp fire,” explained Erica Rosen, director of marketing for BioLite.
With backgrounds in design and engineering, Drummond and Cedar – who is also the company’s chief executive officer – put their heads together to tackle the challenge and several weeks later, the first BioLite camp stove was born.
On a whim, the pair debuted the camp stove at the 2009 Ethos Conference, a festival featuring products using sustainable energy and clean fuel, in Kirkland, Washington. They ended up winning the “Cleanest Stove” award – their product was the only one stove on display that wasn’t plugged into a wall.
With the camp stove finally launching on the market in Spring 2012, Drummond and Cedar soon set up their offices at 65 Jay Street in DUMBO – Brooklyn’s technology start-up epicenter.
For an idea that lit a fire under viewers at the Ethos Conference, as well as venture capitalists, as soon as it was introduced, the BioLite stove appears surprisingly simple.
“It has a kind of canister for the stove that you burn the fire in. You can burn bio mass, like pine cones and twigs that are around you – literally stuff you can pick up as you are camping and hiking,” Rosen explained, adding that it ends up burning the fire in a way that reduces black carbon emissions by 90 percent. “It’s an efficient project.”
How efficient? Well, the camp stove harnesses excess heat that goes into a generator, which can then generate two watts of electrical output and has an USB port that allows campers to charge electrical devices.
But BioLite has higher goals then helping campers start a fire – the stove is just a spark for a larger effort: Drummond and Cedar applied the same technology of the camp stove and created a home stove, which is now being used in countries such as Ghana and Uganda.
“Three billion people still cook over open fires with huge health implications,” said Rosen, who pointed out that women working as the primary caretakers of their families in rural areas will no longer have to spend hours a day collecting wood to burn fire. “It also reduced health risks from black carbon emissions.”
So what makes the technology behind these stoves so effective? According to Rosen, it’s all in the design.
The metal mesh canister is where the fire takes place. Then a corresponding yellow attachment is where all the electrical equipment lives, and is where a fan creates an efficient way to burn the fire. The stove then converts heat into electricity that powers the fan. The extra electricity that isn’t going into the fan goes into the USB port that can charge small electronics.
The stoves are also convenient to handle – they weigh only two pounds and the outside component with the electrical equipment can fit inside the canister itself. “You end up with a really small footprint,” Rosen said.
Rosen noted that all sales of the camp stove go towards the market establishment of the home stove. “We are creating capital and revenue that can float the home stove,” she said. “This isn’t a one-for-one model. If you buy a camp stove, you are supporting its broader mission of bringing renewable energy to everyone, everywhere and to those who need it most.”
Looking towards the future, BioLite wants to create products, like the stoves, that integrate design and technology while making the world a better place at the same time.
“We are not stopping here,” Rosen said. “Keep an eye out for us over the summer – we want people to come and see what we are all about.”
BioLite develops and manufactures advanced energy products that make cooking with wood as clean safe and easy as modern fuels while also providing electricity to charge cell phones and LED lights off-grid. The company feels a strong sense of responsibility not just to develop products that work well but also to create businesses that make a positive contribution to the global community.
65 Jay Street, Brooklyn, NY
Founded: April, 2010
Offices: Eleven employees and counting at their DUMBO offices.
Officers: Founder and CEO Jonathan Cedar and founder Alec Drummond.
Funding: The operations are funded mostly by the Disruptive Innovation Fund, made possible by Boston-based Rose Park Advisors. Renowned business school investor Clayton Christiansen is the founder of the firm and aims to “identify companies whose strategy is well suited to take advantage of change.”