LIGHTING UP LIVES, FROM HONG KONG
“There is no secret to our success. Our customers are the centre of all we do. We have the right team and investors, right distribution, education and marketing programmes, and the right products”
Ned Tozun, President, D.Light Design
Hong Kong provides a good strategic base from which one socially minded company is supporting the development of its products for people without access to reliable electricity worldwide
With a plan to centralise several of the company’s key functions in Hong Kong, D.light Design – one of the world’s most successful social enterprises – has chosen the city to be a base for its mission to serve people around the world living without steady electricity supply. As a first step, Ned Tozun, the company’s President, and its product design and international sales team relocated to Hong Kong in January 2010.
Tozun noted Hong Kong’s proximity to the company’s manufacturing base and product engineering team in Shenzhen. “Hong Kong is a key hub in the region, so we can easily access our markets across Asia and Africa. It is easy to find local talented people with good design capabilities, as well as distributors. Hong Kong is an international city with a very business-friendly environment,” Tozun said. “We did consider other locations, but they are not as efficient as Hong Kong. We wanted to keep our overheads low.”
A Brighter Future
D.light Design was established in 2007 as a profitable social enterprise by Tozun and Sam Goldman, both Stanford Business School graduates. The business model is simple: there are 1.6 billion people worldwide without electricity and a further one billion with sporadic access who need high quality, safe and affordable lighting in order to improve their standard of living. D.light wants to meet this demand by manufacturing a range of bright, safe solarpowered lights that cost as little as US$10 each, thus eradicating the need for kerosene lanterns globally.
The concept has proved successful and the company has already sold over 125,000 lights worldwide, benefiting more than half a million people and exceeding its initial business targets. In less than three years it has grown from a company of five to upwards of 70 staff, with multinational operations in the US, India, Mainland China, and Tanzania. In 2009, the company decided to consolidate to open an office in Hong Kong. The founders are also planning to further expand in India and East Africa with the goal of selling millions of lights each year, as well as diversifying into other solar-powered products.
Speed to Market
InvestHK provided ‘amazing’ support, Tozun said, including help with setting up the company and opening a company bank account during his 7-hour transit stop in Hong Kong from India to Beijing. “I also visited three possible office locations in the city on the same day! InvestHK lined up everything for me in advance; all I needed to do was to sign the papers. We never received this level of support when we opened our other offices. Now InvestHK is helping facilitate our work visa applications,” he said.
Tozun and his wife moved from Shenzhen to Hong Kong in January 2010, and with InvestHK’s assistance, he managed to find a home in just one day, and that was a Sunday.
D.light Design came out of Stanford Business School’s Design for Extreme Affordability programme. The company was funded by prize money from business plan competitions and prestigious venture capital firms in India and the US. As leaders in thesocial enterprise space, the founders are keen to show that it is possible to do good for the environment and make the rightsocial impact while also making a profit.
“There’s a lot of skepticism in the market, but in the next few years we plan to launch an IPO, possibly in Hong Kong. And when this is successful, it should attract more investment and seed funding into the social enterprise market space,” Tozun said.
“There is no secret to our success. Our customers are the centre of all we do. We have the right team and investors, right distribution, education and marketing programmes, and the right products,” he said.
Fast Facts: D.light Design
- Founded in the US in 2007 by two Stanford MBA graduates
- D.light has offices in the US, India, Tanzania, Mainland China, and Hong Kong
- D.light Design’s mission is to enable households without reliable electricity to attain the same quality of life as those with electricity, with the fi rst goal being to replace every kerosene lantern with clean, safe and bright light
- The company has grown in less than three years from fi ve to over 70 staff and has sold over 125,000 lights worldwide
- In January 2010, D.light Design centralised its product design and international sales in Hong Kong with plans to move additional corporate functions here