D.light is a for-profit company started in 2007 by Stanford MBA students Ned Tozun and Sam Goldman, whose idea for solar-powered lights was born out of a Stanford Design School course called “Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability.” As a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin, Goldman had seen a young boy badly burned by a kerosene lamp. Both founders knew that more than 2 billion people in the world don’t have access to reliable electricity. Venture-capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, which sponsored the design contest, invested $250,000.
Tice, meanwhile, had enjoyed a more conventional business career in the consumer products industry, running the Folger’s coffee business for Procter & Gamble and helping to develop new products for Dreyer’s ice cream. While working with advanced nanotechnology to create stain and wrinkle-resistant fabric for a company called Nano-Tex, he decided to make a change.
“I woke up one day and realized that I was saving the world from stains,” he said.
Through a networking group that looked at ways that entrepreneurs could help alleviate global poverty, Tice was introduced to investors who were considering putting money into d.light. He became an informal adviser to the company, joined the board when they closed their first round of financing in 2008, became chairman in 2010 and CEO about two years ago.
He’s glad he did: “I love the work. I love our customers. You bring something into their lives that changes their life. What’s not to like?”
One key to the success of d.light is the company’s willingness to listen to its customers. Senior executives visit rural villages in India or Africa, where most of the lanterns are sold.
“The consumers really design our products,” Tice said. “It’s what we used to do at P&G. Our teams tromp around in the dust with prototypes.”
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