Filipina technopreneur Aisa Mijeno, founder of the multi-awarded startup Sustainable Alternative Lighting (SALt), said a support system is highly needed in the entrepreneurship space in the Philippines, in a rare interview conducted by US president Barack Obama himself.
At a dialogue session yesterday at the Asia-Pacific Economic (APEC) 2015 forum in Manila, Obama served as moderator, interviewing Mijeno and Chinese internet billionaire Jack Ma, founder of the Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.
Mijeno and her brother developed an electrochemical LED lamp that runs on saltwater and can charge low-power mobile devices.
“What would’ve been the biggest challenge for you in terms of scaling up? You got a technology, you feel confident it can work?” Obama asked, and Aisa explained that talent and passion are already present in the Philippines, and a support system is what is needed.
“We have the passion. What we need is a support system from both the private sector and the government to mentor us and guide us how we can scale up the product, the project. And yes, we also need a lot of support in terms of funding. That’s our main challenge right now,” Mijeno replied to Obama, noting their main advocacy is to address the light inequality gap, first in the Philippines, by focusing on the people at the bottom of the pyramid, because it comprises of about 15 to 20 per cent of the country’s population.
SALt’s product lamp uses the science behind the galvanic cell, the basis for battery-making, changing the electrolytes to a non-toxic, saline solution. They sell the product at around $20 and could provide light at about eight hours a day in six months, before replacing a consumable part inside which they sell around $3.
Also read: SALt wins People’s Choice award at SNS
“So you’re just going to sustain the lamp. You just have to spend $6 annually,” Mijeno told Obama. “We’re at a critical phase, we’re trying to mass produce the lamp, so we’re just looking for someone to fund to get the project moving.”
A computer engineering graduate, Mijeno does the research and development part at SALt. She is a current faculty member of Engineering at De La Salle University in Lipa and a member of Greenpeace Philippines.
SALt was incubated by IdeaSpace Foundation, and have won several awards including KOTRA Top 5 Best Global Startup at Startup Nations Summit 2014, People’s Choice at Startup Nations Summit 2014 and recognized by the ASEAN Corporate Sustainability Summit and Awards 2015 giving them the SME Sustainability Commitment Category.
“With the help of local incubation programme here in the Philippines, we were able to partner with a local manufacturing company who is trying to help us assemble the lamps. We’re also in talks, we’re getting so many support from organisations and foundations to distribute the lamps across the Philippines,” Mijeno said. “So with all those, it’s a collaborative effort. You have to be open to partnering and helping out people, especially in our case, people that do not have access to electricity. Electricity is a basic need, light is a basic need, and we should be addressing that.”