Jonathan Cedar and Alec Drummond, founders of the outdoor and off-grid energy brand BioLite, believe modern technology has surpassed the architecture of the common headlamp we use today. As mechanical engineers and outdoor enthusiasts, they set out to solve the basic physics problem experienced by the traditional headlamps on the market.
Erica Rosen, BioLite’s Director of Marketing, illustrated the conundrum: “You’re taking a giant doorknob of plastic and you’re putting it on a pretty weak sauce elastic band, and then you’re cantilevering it off your forehead.”
Before long, you might have a headache, a red mark on your forehead, and eventually, resort to hanging the headlamp around your neck. “It’s not a neck light, it’s a headlamp,” she joked.
Inspired by the eyeglasses his dentist wears, affixed with a microscopic LED light, Jonathan, “chief nerd of the office” as Erica affectionately called him, was enamored. How is it my dentist’s light can be the size of a pen cap but my headlamp is the size of a travel truck?
They were well aware that the headlamp market was a crowded category with some serious domination. “But BioLite is in the business of making things work better,” Erica said. “We can make a better headlamp. And, we did.”
The brand addressed the overall construction of their Headlamp 330 by integrating the electronics into the headband, creating a slim fit and flush front. The power source is on the back of the moisture-wicking headband (no more red marks on your forehead), resulting in better balance and comfort.
Holding true to BioLite’s staunch effort to eliminate the need for more batteries and fossil fuels, the headlamp is rechargeable via micro-USB.
Biolite first opened shop a decade before Headlamp 330 was born. Back in 2006, Jonathan and Alec were working at a product design firm engineering consumer goods. They shared a love of camping and a disdain of packing out gas stoves and fuel.
“It felt like a really incongruous experience,” Erica explained. “Here you are out in nature appreciating beautiful natural resources, and you’re bringing fossil fuels with you!”
They thought it might be better to simply burn wood, but this method is often smoky and challenging to cook over. The guys wondered, “what if we could get wood to burn better, smarter, and cleaner?”
Taking into account the basic fire triangle, they realized the need for air to combust the smoke before it escaped the fire. But, they needed a fan to create such air. And, a fan requires energy. The scientists scratched their heads. But then they realized they could employ thermoelectric technology, meaning they could take heat from the fire and use it to power the fan. Erica explained, “what a solar panel does with the sun, we do with heat.”
What started as a product soon became a mission. In 2009, after a few years of experimenting, the pair brought a working prototype of their stove to the Ethos Clean Wood Conference. They expected to meet fellow tinkerers, but much to their surprise the event was instead crowded with PhD scientists, policy makers, inventors, and public health advocates.
The need for a clean burning stove went beyond just camping. It’s estimated that more than three billion people worldwide rely on cooking over a wood burning stove. In that moment, they “found a technological intervention that enabled people to still use their preferred fuel type while dramatically improving their daily life,” Erica said.
To date, BioLite’s HomeStove has reached more than half a million people across the globe, all while remaining a carbon-neutral brand. “The business of our business is impact,” Erica said. Each sale gets reinvested into new research and opportunities that help the brand develop more life-changing products. “The stability of our outdoor audience enables us to retain this.”
While its origins are in camp stoves, the brand quickly learned that fire is just one of many forms of energy. “We have the science and technology to unlock energy in lots of different forms and spaces in a way that’s renewable, affordable, and reliable,” Erica said.
This spark created the brand’s mission to eradicate energy poverty. Believing we should all have the same access to safe and reliable energy, BioLite created its three pillars of business: Cook, Charge, Light.
The future of the brand and the nearly 100 “BioLiters” they employ from New York to Nairobi is a bright one.
When Erica started with the company seven years ago, they had just one product.
“If you look at everything we’ve accomplished and the speed at which we moved, it makes it a really dynamic place. It’s relentless. This is a marathon with sprints inside of it,” she said.
BioLite strives to get the outdoor community to better understand the mission behind the brand.
“That’s a challenge that I’m up for and one that I’m really excited about,” Erica said.