The past decade has seen the rise of the social entrepreneur. Whether it’s creating light with a bag or a soccer ball to help others, this new breed of entrepreneur wants to create work that is meaningful, not just profitable.
Meet Mike Lin. He’s part of this growing branch of entrepreneurs. Always one to tinker with new ideas, Lin made professional stops at Stanford and Apple before maxing out his credit cards to start Fenix International.
Its goal? To bring a clean, renewable power source to people living beyond the reach of a traditional power grid.
While visiting Uganda, Lin observed the creative ways people tapped into a power source to charge their mobile phone or run a business, which inspired the bright ideas that led to the San Francisco–based Fenix.
“People often used things like car batteries for power sources, but those spill acid,” he said. “I thought there has to be a better system.”
If there was, Lin didn’t see it. So he and his colleagues designed the ReadySet, a portable battery rechargeable via a solar panel or bicycle generator.
Since its launch in 2012, the ReadySet has been utilized by thousands of people across Uganda and Kenya for their small-enterprise purposes. It has been used for everything from a mobile phone charging kiosk to a security light to keep livestock safe from lions and tigers.
“A chicken farmer discovered that if they put a light on in the chicken coop, it improved the health of the chickens and their egg production,” said Lin.
In June 2014, Fenix became one of 27 partners in President Obama’s Power Africa: Beyond the Grid initiative, which seeks to unlock investment and growth opportunities for off-grid and small-scale energy solutions. For its part, Fenix has accepted the task of distributing 1 million off-grid, solar power systems in East Africa by 2018.
While Lin admits the task is daunting, his enthusiasm to make a difference sooner than later reflects a trait common amongst today’s mobile-minded social entrepreneurs: impatience.
“Millennials aren’t attracted to the big jobs anymore. They want to find meaning in their work now,” Lin said. “Today, you don’t need to wait and make your billions and then do nonprofit work after the fact.”