Q + A
BioLite is a DUMBO-based company that makes affordable, clean stoves that also generate electricity. Originally focused on camping gear, BioLite has since expanded their product line to include home stoves for use in the developing world, where toxic wood fire stoves kill nearly two million people every year. In July, BioLite announced that they had raised $5 million in growth capital funding to continue their work of bringing clean energy to the world. Today we go behind the scenes to learn more about their founding, their mission, and how such an outdoorsy company ended up in the heart of Brookyln.
Where did the idea for BioLite come from?
Our founders, Alec and Jonathan, met while working at Smart Design in NYC and quickly became friends based on their shared interest in sustainable design. Alec was frustrated that all efficient camping stoves required petroleum fuel or batteries and had the idea of a wood-burning stove able to utilize its own energy. Jonathan, an avid camper, brought his engineering experience to the table and they began designing. Countless nights, weekends, and prototypes later, the BioLite CampStove was born.
You’re an outdoor-orientated company. Why DUMBO?
As long time residents of Brooklyn, our founders wanted the business to reside there too. DUMBO has become a hub for tech and innovation, being surrounded by that community is helpful as we grow.
We don’t see being an outdoor company in New York as contradictory. The state of New York offers plenty of opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts and we aren’t far from accessing it. Did you know that the Adirondack park is larger than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier, and the Grand Canyon Park combined? To encourage the team to access the outdoors regularly we even built an Off Grid Innovation Lab in the Hudson Valley, check it out.
What has been your greatest challenge? Success?
Our greatest challenges and successes are closely tied together – first off, there is an incredible amount of work to be done to fulfill our mission of bringing energy everywhere, specifically to energy deprived households who lack safe and reliable access to cooking, charging, and lighting. The challenge is so big that at times it can seem like a daunting task – however, one of our greatest successes has been in building a world class team of designers, engineers, operators, salesmen, and marketers who are turning this mission into a reality.
How did you make the jump from a luxury camping accessory to a potential solution to a major world health problem?
We’ve always felt a strong sense of responsibility to create products that make a positive global impact. When we discovered that 3 billion people around the globe cook over smoky indoor fires resulting in 4 million deaths a year, we wove a stronger global focus into our business model. Our stoves reduce 90% of smoke compared to normal fires and when health problems due to smoke inhalation kill more than Malaria, TB and AIDS combined each year, it only made our involvement more urgent.
Pair that with the reality that nearly half the planet doesn’t have safe and reliable access to electricity, you can understand why BioLite, as an energy company, has to extend our products beyond the outdoor industry. Our mission is to bring Energy Everywhere so when people purchase BioLite products, we reinvest into our Emerging Markets work to figure out how we can truly open energy access in cost effective ways. We call this parallel innovation.
Favorite spot in DUMBO?
I’m going to choose a favorite DUMBO memory. I don’t think the team will ever forget when we used a giant BioLite CampStove to power the tree lighting in Pearl Street Triangle last year.