We at OxGadgets like to feature Kickstarter campaigns from time to time that we feel are of particular interest to our readers or which are based locally to us here in the UK. We were therefore particularly pleased when we saw a new campaign appear that not only combines our love of gadgets but that also is located near to us in Oxford: The Mwezi Light.
The Mwezi light is the brainchild of Mike Sherry, and we decided that rather just repeat the information that you can all read for yourselves on the campaign’s Kickstarter page, we would get in touch with Mike and ask him a few questions about his project.
oxG: What made you choose Kickstarter over other sources of funding for this venture?
Mike:Kickstarter is, I believe, one of the most well-known crowdfunding websites.
oxG: How long have you been working on this project prior to seeking funding?
Mike: I have been involved in energy efficiency projects in Sub Saharan Africa for the last 6 years, I have been working on this project for the last 6 months.
oxG: What would you say have been your main technical problems that you have needed to overcome, and how did you overcome them?
Mike: Technical problems weren’t too challenging – the issues were self-imposed, namely:
a. We wanted a modular light so that it can be assembled locally and serviced by unskilled workers – this is more technically challenging than a sealed unit assembled in Africa that is not serviceable.
b. We needed to meet the requirements of African customers in terms of durability, affordability and function
c. We also wanted our light to perform better than others on the market – charge time and lighting time.
oxG: If and when you reach your funding goal, what is your next step?
Mike: When we reach our funding goal we intend to go to full production – the first step will be to commission the injection mouldings.
oxG: We obviously hope it doesn’t come to it, but what would you do if you do not reach your funding target?
Mike: We will examine why we didn’t get to our goal, considering re-launching or seek private investment.
oxG: You say you have a background in environmental technology. Do you have any other previous projects that we would be aware of in the UK or in Oxford?
Mike: I was involved in the design, manufacture of power down plugs for a major utility company in the UK. I have also completed the largest energy efficient cook stove project registered under the UN carbon credits programme, replacing traditional three stone fires in Kenya with energy efficient ‘rocket’ cook stoves in Kenya improving the lives of 100,00 Kenyans.
oxG: I see the prototype doesn’t have any resin on the PCB. Is that the case final product or just the prototype?
Mike: This is a prototype PCB albeit we now have the production ready PCB.
oxG: Often the challenge in Africa is not getting the people jobs, but making sure there is no corruption. Is this something you have considered, and do you have a plan to counteract it?
Mike: We intend to act locally and not involve central government. Our assemble workshops will be converted 20ft sea containers that are secure and waterproof. In addition they are easily transported by sea, rail and truck so if a situation occurs that causes concern we can easily relocate the workshop.
oxG: Have you also looked into the possibility of actually making the parts in Africa instead of China?
Mike: Yes we have looked at manufacturing the product in country but at the moment we have not found a suitable supplier. Ultimately we hope to raise demand sufficiently for that to happen and we will keep looking.
oxG: Would you be handing it over to Africa or would you manage the product/production yourself?
Mike: We will manage the business from the UK but employ local staff at all levels in the organisation.
oxG: About the performance of the product, can you give us some numbers on what you expect in terms of output in the African sun? Or is 5 hours of light the maximum you can get out of these?
Mike: Based on a fully charged battery pack the light will last 9 hours at 100% brightness. At the lowest light level, nightlight, the battery pack will last about 80 hours. The battery should fully charge in 6 hours. The numbers you refer to (from the kickstarter website) are after 4 hours of charging in the UK.
oxG: Is there a more efficient lamp in production, or have you got any plans to move to different products, for example going to chargers/radios, etc. next?
Mike: We are not aware of a more efficient product in production. We have tested a number of products that don’t seem to achieve the claims they make. We will add to our product range – the next most obvious product is a mobile phone charger. We will utilise the clamshell mouldings, change the function on the PCB thereby making the components inter-changeable. Some other products combine the two – light and phone charger. Our market research indicates that most households in East Africa require 3 lights and one phone charger. By combining a phone charger and light you make the product unaffordable and then not all the kerosene lamps are replaced in a home.
oxG: Do you have any links with the local authorities?
oxG: What countries would this be focused on? Are you going to focus on one or two key countries first before expanding into others once the initial ones are established?
Mike: We will initially focus on Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda as the infrastructure is a little more developed. We intend to expand to reach as many of the 580 million Africans without access to grid electricity as possible. We have designed the light and assembly network to be scalable.
oxG: On Kickstarter, your rewards are fairly low cost. Do you think you have missed a trick there by not offering bigger rewards? Or is this purely because you really want to concentrate on Africa, and not UK.
Mike: The advice from Kickstarter is to keep the reward value low so that more people can back the project but we are considering offering some higher value rewards.
oxG: Are you hoping to make money from this, or is it purely charitable?
Mike: Mwezi is a for profit social enterprise. We believe that market based solutions to these particular issues are the best way to become sustainable and scalable. Having said that our objective is to provide products and services that improve the health, wealth, education and environmental impact of the poorest people in the world. We won’t sell anything that doesn’t meet these objectives. We are also focussing on evidence based decisions so we will carefully measure our impacts and report these to our stakeholders.
We want to thank Mike for spending time to answer our questions. If you have any questions that you would like to ask yourself, then you can contact Mike using the contact form on the Mwezi website.
We urge all our readers to help Mike by pledging money to his campaign.