Friday, March 5, 2010
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Social venture plan competition fosters commercially sustainable solutions to problems of poverty in the developing world

WORCESTER, Mass. — A UMass Medical student has come up with a safe, affordable solution to keeping the lights turned on in rural Rwanda. The student, Max Fraden, class of 2013, and his project partner Charles Ishimwe, a business student at the Adventist University of Central Africa in Rwanda, recently won a global social entrepreneurship competition with their idea, which replaces dangerous kerosene with human pedal power. They will take home the $10,000 Grand Prize in the 6th annual Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC). Awarded by the Global Business Center at the University of Washington’s Michael G. Foster School of Business, the GSEC is a business plan competition in which students from around the world—and across fields of study—develop creative, commercially sustainable solutions to problems of poverty in the developing world.

Based on advanced hand-crank technology, the Nuru Light uses a pedal generator similar to an incumbent bike to generate electricity, which is then stored in batteries. These batteries can be used to power lights, and eventually small household electronics, such as radios and cell phones. Currently, 90 percent of residents in Rwanda use expensive kerosene fuel to light their homes, exposing them to toxic fumes and other dangers—25 percent of households in Rwanda have reported kerosene-related accidents in the past 12 months.

Having worked with the United Nations Millennium Project in Nyamata, Rwanda, Fraden believed there was a better way to power lights than burning kerosene. “Burning kerosene for light has economic, health and safety issues for residents,” said Fraden. “By replacing kerosene light with a safer alternative, we can have a substantial impact on people’s health on a large scale.”

Using Nuru Light’s pedal generator, users can charge up to five lights at once in just 20 minutes of gentle pedaling. Handheld and rugged, the Nuru Light was designed by a team of engineers using winnings from the World Bank's 2008 Lighting Africa competition.

In addition to the Grand Prize, Nuru Light also received the $2,500 Global Health Second Prize and $500 Trade Show Investor’s Choice Award. All told, Nuru Light was awarded $13,000 in prizes from the GESC competition week. The prize money will go to fund the infrastructure necessary for the start-up, which already has a prototype available, to distribute the generator and lights. To learn more about the Nuru Light technology visit them online at

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The University of Massachusetts Medical School, one of the fastest growing academic health centers in the country, has built a reputation as a world-class research institution, consistently producing noteworthy advances in clinical and basic research. The Medical School attracts more than $240 million in research funding annually, 80 percent of which comes from federal funding sources. The mission of the Medical School is to advance the health and well-being of the people of the commonwealth and the world through pioneering education, research, public service and health care delivery with its clinical partner, UMass Memorial Health Care. For more information, visit