Tech startups are a dime a dozen these days with many ultimately not even getting their feet off the ground. But once in a while there are those with truly innovative and moving ideas that not only deserve support but also success.
One of these startups is SALt, short for Sustainable Alternative Lighting. The fairly new startup was one of the winners of last year’s IdeaSpace contest with their idea of an LED-based lamp powered simply by tap water and table salt. We recently had the privilege to meet and talk to the founders of SALt at IdeaSpace’s offices to learn their story and see their product first-hand.
First off, IdeaSpace is a foundation supported by the MVP Group of Companies with the goal of giving startups a chance to develop their ideas into actual businesses. With “Incubation + Acceleration” at its core, IdeaSpace not only invests in startups but it also assists them during the critical phases of their business development. It gives them access to and support from the expertise and experience of the MVP group.
To choose the startups it supports, IdeaSpace holds a yearly contest (now in its third year). They work through hundreds of idea submissions into 10 winners who will receive an initial financial investment of P500,000 along with other benefits including office space, mentoring, legal support, networking support, and a lot more.
As for SALt, its idea is fairly simple but potentially world-changing. It would provide a safe, sustainable, and cost-effective alternative source of light for people who have no access to electricity. For the Philippines, that accounts for about 15.6 million citizens or 20 percent of the country’s population.
SALt also says its product can be used as an easily accessible and sustainable source of lighting during disasters or trips to areas with no electricity. The idea behind SALt was originally conceptualized after Aisa Mijeno spent time with the Butbut tribe in the mountains of Kalinga. Their main sources of light are kerosene-based lamps that require them to walk 12 hours every other day just to purchase fuel for.
The lamp itself uses the open science of electrolysis/electrochemistry. Through a combination of a sacrificial anode, an LED bulb, and a circuit board designed by Mijeno herself, it is able to produce electricity and light for up to eight hours. The lamp uses just a third of a glass of water and two tablespoons of salt. The salinity of this matches the salinity of salt water, making it optimal for our country’s archipelagic makeup.
The overarching concept of SALt’s lamp may seem simple and makes you wonder why few others have utilized the concept. But in reality, SALt’s circuitry design and cathode mixture—both of which are patent pending—along with the industrial and utility design, are the key elements to making the product work. The technology is not only sound enough to power an LED bulb but the device is also able to charge some cellular phones via the included USB cable. This entails the almost endless possibilities of the technology.
One of the goals of SALt is to create a cost-effective product. They’ve made the lamp’s upkeep (for the sacrificial anode and salt) to be around P684 (US$15) a year compared to around P7,280 for kerosene-based lighting. Add to this the difference in safety between a kerosene-based lamp and one powered by saltwater. Now, you’ve got something that could change the lives of many families. Additionally, the folks at SALt mentioned that the lamps could also be used by fishermen for the same goal. It will reduce their expenses and provide a safer way to give them light while fishing.
SALt’s potential for positive change is why the startup’s slogan is “This isn’t just a product, it’s a social movement.” It is also their plan to coordinate with NGOs, government entities, and social groups both local and foreign to get the lamps to the remote areas of the country and the world—or to those who may need it. Today, the startup already has a running social activity to get donations for 100 lamps for the Hanunuo Mangyan tribe of Oriental Mindoro. They also intend to start a program similar to the One for One concept of Tom’s shoes. But in this case, they will bring one lamp to a person in need for every lamp purchased.
Currently, SALt is working on the final design of their lamp (which they say will be cylindrical) and plans to release the final product sometime in April or May at a retail price of around P1,500. The startup has made its lamp available for pre-order on their website but the final product will also be available from other online retailers. In the future, SALt plans to develop and release more products using the same technology to make it available for different applications and uses.