For the 1.6 billion people around the world who don't have access to electricity or good sources of light, when night falls the majority of them will turn to kerosene lanterns, which are both hazardous and create pollutants.
D.Light Design is looking to change this. On Monday, the startup launched its line of affordable, modern-day lighting for urban and rural households in developing countries.
India is the first market that the company plans to tackle – 5,000 of its lead lighting products, called the Nova, have been in field tests there since December.
The Nova uses light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to provide up to 40 hours of light on a single charge.
D.Light has partnered with South Korea's Seoul Semiconductor to provide the LED component of the light, which is 10 to 20 times brighter than a kerosene lantern and up to 50 percent more efficient than fluorescent lights, according to Ned Tozun, D.Light co-founder and president.
To recharge the light customers can choose between systems that use AC, solar, or solar with an AC backup. The light and its re-charging system costs between $15 and $30.
The company is also launching a trimmed-down version of the Nova, which provides up to seven hours of light and comes with a compact solar charger. The light is designed for dollar-a-day households and sells for between $8 and $14.
The lights are expected to last five years, according to Tozun.
Advances in LED technology have been key to getting D.Light's prices down.
"In the last couple of years LED lighting has become so efficient that you can drive a lot of that efficiency into the base unit itself," he said.
As a result, one way that D.Light has gained savings by using smaller solar panels in its recharging system, he explained.
Tozun wouldn't go into further detail about how the company keeps its costs down, except to say much of the savings come from product design and things like circuitry tweaks.
When selling to a population where a single dollar can determine whether or not a family eats that day, every penny must be accounted for.
"I think we hit the right price point," Tozun said.
There are regions of the world, like Africa, where a family can spend $5 a month on kerosene fuel. "Payback can be pretty fast in those markets," he said.
Plus, D.Light’s products are safer than kerosene lanterns, said Tozun.
With D.Light’s lights customers will avoid breathing in the noxious fumes associated with burning kerosene, and the possibility of starting a fire if it tips over.
Part of the inspiration for starting the company comes from co-founder and CEO Sam Goldman. While serving in the Peace Corps and living in the small African country of Benin, Goldman met his neighbor's son who had been burned from head to toe during a kerosene fire.
The memory of the boy helped motivate Goldman to start a business around better and safer lighting while he was enrolled in Stanford's MBA program.
But D.Light isn't the only company working on affordable lighting for developing countries.
Cosmos Ignite Innovations also has an LED, solar-rechargeable light. And startup Potenco’s yo-yo-like device can generate enough electricity to power a LED light with only a few pulls of a cord. The company claims that one minute of pulling creates enough energy to power an LED flashlight for one hour.
When it comes to competing against other do-good companies, Tozun said the price of D.Light's products are considerably less than the $60 and up of those working on similar lights.
Originally based in Silicon Valley, D.Light moved its headquarters to New Delhi, India a few months ago. Competition in India and in Africa – possibly next region the company wants to move into – could come from copycat companies that turn a blind eye to D.Light’s intellectual property.
"There is not a lot of defensibility for IT in these markets," Tozun said, adding that part of D.Light's business strategy includes brand building and earning a reputation for making products that last.