While designing a recreational camping stove, BioLite’s Jonathan Cedar recognized its potential for social impact in emerging countries as an alternative to cooking fires, and changed his trajectory.
“Making that full-on commitment to dedicate all of our time and resources to seeing this through is what gave our investors the confidence to really stand by our work.”
With BioLite’s newly available CampStove preordered well into summer, Jonathan Cedar sees the high demand as nothing shocking. “There was a desire for alternatives to petroleum fuel — gas can be constraining for campers.” Jonathan spent years developing a stove that uses thermoelectrics (the conversion of heat into electricity) to drive a flame-boosting fan, as well as any USB-powered device like a phone or light. “More and more people are carrying their electronics into the outdoors and don’t have great ways to recharge them,” Jonathan explains. “It’s hard to be out in the back-country traveling with these things.” Anyone who’s ever been camping can immediately see the draw, but add to it BioLite’s larger stoves for homes in developing countries it becomes all the more interesting.
It’s a response that mirrors the development of the product itself; Jonathan began with a solution to a recreational product and, while at the ETHOS Conference, discovered its potential for impact on a global scale. “That’s where we really had our eyes opened to the enormous need for reduced in-home air pollution,” Jonathan says.
A majority of the world’s harvested wood goes to cooking fires, which roughly one third of the global population still relies on. The smoke from these fires is the second leading cause of death worldwide; “I don’t think it was fully on our radar that two million people die [each year].” It was a revelation that shifted their mission; BioLite’s revenue from the CampStove helps support long-term development of their HomeStove, which reduces toxic wood smoke by about 95 percent. The stoves pay for themselves quickly, eradicating reliance on (and waste from) fuel sources and diminishing deforestation.
Jonathan began the project with his business partner, Alexander Drummand, while they both worked in product development for Smart Design. Eventually they left to devote themselves to their BioLite CampStove full time. “It’s very hard to get something off the ground from a part time [approach] and I think making that full-on commitment to dedicate all of our time and resources to seeing this through is what gave our investors the confidence to really stand by our work.”