In late 2011, a team of NIU engineering and business students, operating under the banner of Team Light Up Africa , teamed up to win a business plan contest that was sponsored by NIU business instructor (and benefactor) Dennis Barsema.
They set forth a plan to start up a company to create small boxes that captures energy generated by the motion of anything from a walking oxen to a bobbing sailboat and turn it into electricity to power light bulbs, charge cell phones or run small appliances. Experts judged the project as having great potential to help millions of people living in remote areas around the globe.
The team’s success spilled over into 2012 as part of the Dell Social Innovation Challenge.
Despite getting a late start, Light Up Africa quickly rocketed past the competition in online voting. The project was No. 1 of 129 projects in the energy category; second among 387 projects aimed at improving life in Africa; third out of 401 for-profit proposals; and fifth out of 555 in the design category.
While they did not win the top prize, the experience provided some key lessons and the team is continuing efforts to turn their class project into a viable business that could transform millions of lives.
The complete story is available online.