Making an Impact; Lighting Up Africa

This next guest post is written by Jason Schwebke, a graduate Accounting student at the NIU College of Business. He is one of the members on a social project called Light Up Africa, and this is his story…

Light Up Africa evolved from the first ever “Social Venture Competition” class at NIU.  The class was taught by Dennis Barsema (after whom the business school is named) and began as a group of three accounting students partnered with one engineering student.  I had taken a class as a senior that Dennis taught, called “Social Entrepreneurship”.  After really enjoying what Dennis offered in that class, I decided to apply to be in his new class, the social venture competition, and from there the rest is history.

It was our goal to develop an idea for a sustainable business that could have a large impact on a large amount of people.  With this in mind, our group began discussing our ideas.  We kicked around ideas about computers, drinking water, electricity, food supply, education…you name it, it probably came up at one point in our discussions.  Not only did we need a product or service, we needed a location to that would be our target market.  With no limits on what we could do or where we could do it, it was a tough decision to zone in on one area and one product or service.

Ultimately, one thing sort of biased our group…in a very good way.  Alan, our engineer, was fresh off the plane from his recent summer long trip to Africa.  His stories about the people and places he saw were incredible.  He saw people living in conditions that most people do not believe even exist in the world today.  But the people still smiled and laughed as if they had everything…because they knew no different.  From this point on, our team has been focused on bringing basic electricity to people in Eastern Africa.  We would use the movement of everyday things to create energy that would be stored and used as electricity later.  Our idea is based on a small personal device that can be attached to moving objects such as bikes, cattle, boats, and even humans.  Based on the objects movement, the device will generate and store electricity to be used at night to provide light and power small electrical devices for impoverished families.   The device also has a universal plug in it.  One thing that we were amazed at is that everyone in Africa has a cell phone, but no way to charge them other than using a car battery (the battery has been taken out of a car…the people in our target market don’t have cars).  The Zoom Box will also give these people a way to charge their phones.

Fast forward three months and a lot of hours of work later, and we were presenting to a panel judges on the “final exam” day for Dennis’s class.  We had a 36 page business plan, complete with financials, competitor analysis, distribution ideas, and a heck of a lot more.  At the end of the night, we were awarded 1st place and a check for $10,000.  We have been busy since December.  We traveled to Chicago and presented to the NIU Foundation Board of Directors.  We just returned from Phoenix, AZ where we presented at an NIU Foundation event.  We have also been named a semi-finalist for the Dell Social Venture Competition and for the University of Oxford Global Entrepreneur Challenge.  We are waiting to find out if we will be a finalist and have a chance to travel to Oxford to compete for prize money.  Please take a moment to vote for our venture for the Dell Social Venture Competition by following this this link.


Thank you for reading!