On a company retreat in a mountain cabin in the winter of 2007, Oslo-based design office K8 adopts a manifest to “go green and make a difference”, which would end up being the start of BRIGHT’s history. Thousands of hours of field research and product development later, that lofty ambition led to a remarkable triumph of smart and innovative design in the form of rugged solar lamps that are impacting millions of lives.
A BRIGHT Idea
A few months after the retreat, at a creative workshop for designers and potential industrial partners, K8 founder Marius Andresen and his colleagues built a prototype for a solar powered torch. They followed standards set by Lighting Africa, a joint IMC and World Bank program that supports the global lighting industry in developing affordable, clean, and efficient lighting and energy for off-grid communities. They discovered that more than a billion people live in communities beyond the electrical grid.
Here, it can be treacherous to be outside after dark. Children do their homework in weak lighting from hazardous makeshift kerosene lamps that fume gases equivalent to 40 cigarettes a day. Charging your cell phone can be a major undertaking. “The project spoke to all our sentiments about making a difference,” Andresen says.
The IKEA Hack
The lamp stayed in the “great idea” department until Andresen woke up one night and hurried into the kitchen. He assembled a small promotional LED torch he had given his wife, an IKEA plastic cup, a lid from a box of nuts and some duct tape doubling as a solar panel. He built the first iteration of what was to become the world-renowned BRIGHT SunBell, a global benchmark for efficient and long-lived solar lamps. Andresen showed his IKEA hack to a talented rookie colleague, Olivier Butstraen.
Over the next 5 years, the two would pour thousands of hours into researching and developing what would become BRIGHT’s baseline product portfolio. The SunBell could create light anywhere – as a ceiling lamp, reading lamp or flashlight. It could also charge mobile phones, was easy to maintain and built to last to reduce total cost of ownership and minimize waste. It encompassed the hope that renewable energy technology could contribute to replacing fossil fuels and reduce climate pressures. At a party in the spring of 2011, Andresen showed a 3D-printed prototype of the lamp to advertising executive Kristian Bye, who fell head over heels for its sleek smartness. A few months later, the two
pitched the lamp at Alex Bogusky’s Common Pitch – a famous business pitch competition in Colorado.
They returned to Oslo with the first prize – a duffle bag stuffed with crumpled one-dollar bills – and the conviction that SunBell had a market. BRIGHT Products was founded in November, 2011.
Innovating Solar Powered Living
With the support of Innovation Norway, the two BRIGHT entrepreneurs traveled and researched in off-grid societies, making design adjustments along the way. They built products that could withstand harsh climates, gathering knowledge about financing mechanisms and social structure. Market feedback was positive. BRIGHT attracted investment and able people to its Board. In 2013, they added to the portfolio the low priced and smart SunTurtle – a smaller, simpler solar lamp. In May 2014, BRIGHT threw a big launch party for the SunBell. “It had been a fantastic journey, but sort of like taking an MBA at a top-flight university and then climbing Mount Everest without oxygen. To make the company fly, we needed to move away from the startup mentality and build a mature company”, Kristian Bye says. In September, 2014, Ingun Berget, a former university classmate of Bye’s with a law degree and a sales pedigree, came on as the new CEO.
The UN and One Million Points of Light
In 2014, the UN defined solar lamps as “core relief items”. It was a turning point for BRIGHT. The Norwegian Emergency Preparedness System (NOREPS) under Innovation Norway invited BRIGHT on a trip to the UN refugee camps in Dadaab in Northern Kenya. The camps are home to 350.000 and have become semi-permanent cities with big infrastructure shortcomings.
The UNHCR representatives witnessed the widespread use of mobile phones and the jubilant reception of the BRIGHT SunBell due to its ability to cover all needs for light in addition to its phone charging capabilities. Soon, UNHCR filed its first order. BRIGHT was handling this business in partnership with W. Giertsen Hallsystem AS, a Norwegian company that has delivered a varity of solutions to the UN for more than 40 years.
In December, 2016, Sunbell number 1 million left the factory. “BRIGHT has taken the step from being a small startup, to becoming the UN’s global provider of solar lamps,” Ingun Berget says.
Values for a BRIGHT future
Four years after the launch of BRIGHT SunBell, more than two million BRIGHT lamps are solving everyday needs for light and phone charging for millions of people. In homes and communities, in cities and camps, in the middle of nature: Children use BRIGHT lamps to do homework at night. Women illuminate their paths for safety. Families power their homes. Travelers light up the dark. Entrepreneurs run their businesses and charge their phones. The lofty manifest of “going green and making a difference”, made in a mountain cabin not even a decade ago, is making a real and growing imprint, and ended up being the beginning of BRIGHT’s history.