Vol. 12 No. 8 - March, 2010

Lighting the way

UMMS student invention wins grand prize at global social entrepreneurship competition

nuru light
Medical student Max Fraden (right) with business partner and student Charles Ishimwe, demonstrates the Nuru Light.

A UMass Medical student has come up with a safe, affordable solution to keeping the lights turned on in rural Rwanda. The student, Max Fraden, SOM ’13, and his project partner Charles Ishimwe, a business student at the Adventist University of Central Africa in Rwanda, recently won a global social entrepreneurship competition with their idea, which replaces dangerous kerosene with human pedal power. They will take home the $10,000 Grand Prize in the 6th annual Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC). Awarded by the Global Business Center at the University of Washington’s Michael G. Foster School of Business, the GSEC is a business plan competition in which students from around the world—and across fields of study—develop creative, commercially sustainable solutions to problems of poverty in the developing world.

Based on advanced hand-crank technology, the Nuru Light uses a pedal generator similar to an incumbent bike to generate electricity, which is then stored in batteries. These batteries can be used to power lights, and eventually small household electronics, such as radios and cell phones. Currently, 90 percent of residents in Rwanda use expensive kerosene fuel to light their homes, exposing them to toxic fumes and other dangers—25 percent of households in Rwanda have reported kerosene-related accidents in the past 12 months.

Having worked with the United Nations Millennium Project in Nyamata, Rwanda, Fraden believed there was a better way to power lights than burning kerosene. “Burning kerosene for light has economic, health and safety issues for residents,” said Fraden. “By replacing kerosene lights with a safer alternative, we can have a substantial impact on people’s health on a large scale.”

Using Nuru Light’s pedal generator, users can charge up to five lights at once in just 20 minutes of gentle pedaling. Handheld and rugged, the Nuru Light was designed by a team of engineers using winnings from the World Bank's 2008 Lighting Africa competition.

In addition to the Grand Prize, Nuru Light also received the $2,500 Global Health Second Prize and the $500 Trade Show Investor’s Choice Award. All told, Nuru Light was awarded $13,000 in prizes during the GESC competition week. The prize money will go to fund the infrastructure necessary for the start-up, which already has a prototype available, to distribute the generator and lights. To learn more about the project and technology, visit http://nurulight.com