Q+A: Seungah Jeong, MPOWERD

Seungah Jeong is CEO of MPOWERD, a local DUMBO company that provides sustainable lighting solutions. MPOWERD provides affordable solar powered lighting products for use in camping, parks, or even in your apartment! In recognition of Seungah's contributions to DUMBO, we honored her with a 2019 DUMBO Dozen Award this year. We met up with Seungah at the MPOWERD offices on Main Street to learn a little more about her, the company's relocation to DUMBO, and the power of sustainable resources in a busy urban environment.

We love the neighborhood and our neighbors; the atmosphere in DUMBO is very conducive to innovative startups!

Seungah Jeong- CEO, MPOWERD

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved at MPOWERD?

I came onboard as the CEO about two and a half years ago, and I also grew up in poverty without access to running water and light.  After my experience growing up I went on to study environmental development, thinking I would do policy work. I ended up taking at detour into business and consumer products, so when MPOWERD approached me a few years ago, it was the perfect combination of both realms; being able to affect lives while still being focused on products. We are a big company and as a Certified B-Corporation, what we do is sell products to traditional retailers all around the world, which allows us to augment our scale so we can reduce our margins for those in emerging markets.

Why did MPOWERD choose to locate in DUMBO?

Our founder John Salzinger and I were looking to find larger accommodations, with a more welcoming environment for a startup than our former location. We found there were some tax advantages to coming to Brooklyn from Manhattan, so we took advantage of those, and couldn’t be happier here. We love the neighborhood and our neighbors; the atmosphere in DUMBO is very conducive to innovative startups!

That's great! How have you liked being in DUMBO so far?

We love our integration with the community in terms of a couple of projects we have been able to work on thus far. We lit up the Archway for the DUMBO Holiday Tree Lighting, and we had a great display with our solar string lights where people could stop by and take selfies with the lights. We also recently did a great program with the Dock Street School here in Dumbo, where we showcased a solar STEM kit that teaches children about solar energy. A lot of our urban advertising campaigns are shot here in DUMBO because we have the waterway, the cobblestones; it’s really a beautiful environment. It’s perfect for us to be here. We used to be next to Penn station, which doesn’t make for a scenic photography and video, so the move here worked out really well.

MPOWERD Photo Booth
MPOWERD Photo Booth

What connections do you make between your company's mission and the challenges of living in a large, highly urbanized city?

What we do is really focused on portable energy, and that’s important because we think portable clean energy is definitely part of what our future should look like. To take a concept that many people know in terms of just solar rooftop panels, and show that is affordable, practical, useful, and can be really well designed, helps people understand the concept of solar. We are actually branching out to a lot of different new product iterations, including solar bike lights, solar induction chargers, solar string lights, and also solar light travel devices with a speakers. When you think of urban areas like New York, you can use a product like our solar string lights on your Juliet balcony or your rooftop, and you don’t have to worry about not having a connection to electricity, which gives you complete freedom. Similarly, in New York there is a large segment of people who use bikes to commute or just for recreation, so we really want to tap into that consumer behavior that is both health conscious and environmentally conscious, to offer a product that they can also use to help their sustainability efforts. The solar bike light recharges via USB, so there’s is a backup option if you don’t have full sunlight. But we really think our products are geared not only towards the adventure person who used them for camping and outdoor adventures, but the urban adventurist as we call them, and we area launching a campaign around that.

What do locals need to know about Solar Energy that they may not know?

We talk a lot about bringing solar energy indoors. We champion one of our lights, the Luci Lux, as a great nightlight and reading light. It has a frosted finish, so if you don’t want too much overhead light or wake your partner it provides a great reading lamp that you can also put in your window to recharge. We also have a candle product, where you don’t have to worry about fire or flames if you have children, pets, that type of thing. The focus is trying to harvest the power of the sun and bring it indoors.

We think portable, clean energy is definitely part of what our future should look like.

A selection of MPOWERD lights
A selection of MPOWERD lights

What part of working at MPOWERD are you most proud of?

Small things like changing behavioral mindsets concerning alternative sources of energy and energy conservation are things we espouse. Through our work we have been able to help over 3 million lives in emerging markets and also divert 450,000 tons of carbon dioxide. The consumer here in the US doesn’t have to do anything; they just buy one of our lights, based upon our scaled model we work with over 500 NGOS, and work together to be able to deploy those lights into emerging markets where people don’t have access to electricity. So, sometimes conservation comes through aligning with partners, brands, and smart buying choices, which can have a larger impact on those around you. Another element I'm proud of is that a lot of our products are used for disaster relief, primarily because they're waterproof and durable. We deployed over 80,000 lights to Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria, and we continue those efforts.

It's important to recognize that all of this interconnected; climate change is real, and that’s why it’s important to educate people about the uses of solar energy and other green alternatives, and to continue to be helpful and supportive community member when disaster strikes around the world. We think it's both very functional and a little bit politically astute to be able to distribute solar lanterns in the case of these natural disasters. Now even energy companies are approaching us and they are starting to adopt some of our lights. For instance, one of our energy partners provides an incentivized green energy program. When someone signs up for their energy efficient plans, they are given one of our lights, and we also give another light on the customer's behalf to someone in an emerging market.

What is your favorite spot in DUMBO?

There’s one place I like, but if I mention it I’m afraid everyone will go there. I won’t even tell my coworkers, I literally only go there with people from out of town, because I don’t want everyone from the office to show up there. Sorry!