LET THERE BE
Smith College grad invents solar-powered light that doubles as a charger for cellphones, tablets and similar devices
By BERA DUNAU
NORTHAMPTON – Anne Griffin has been dreaming of a solar-powered personal light for about 15 years, a decade before she founded her company Charge Ahead LLC. Yet, if her Kickstarter fundraising campaign is successful, this dream will become a reality for thousands of people.
Griffin calls her product the Solar Foldy, and it is both a solar-powered LED light and a charger that can be used to charge cellphones, tablets and similar devices.
“It’ll do the whole room for you,” she said, of the solar foldy’s capacity. “You could do surgery by this.”
She said Solar Foldys can produce six hours of super bright light, 12 hours of very very bright light and 200 hours of night light.
One of the inspirations for the Solar Foldy was a storm when her children were younger, which was expected to cut off power to her Florence home.
“I’m thinking with my two little kids, ‘Why don’t I have this product already?’” Griffin said.
She said that she was inspired to think about solar power by Charles Mingus III, son of the great jazz genius Charles Mingus Jr.
“He’s an old friend of mine from the ’80s,” she said.
She described Mingus as a great thinker, whose “mind is like the Louvre Museum.”
There are other products like the Solar Foldy currently on the market, with Griffin saying WakaWaka would be her chief competitor if she is successful in bringing the product to market. However, Griffin said that what sets her creation apart are its superior ergonomics. The device is bigger than a smartphone but smaller than a tablet.
“Mine is less bulky,” she said. “It’s really nice in your pocket.”
While Solar Foldy started off as purely a light, she was told by her mentor at SCORE, a nonprofit organization that provides mentoring advice to small businesses, that the Solar Foldy should also have the ability to charge devices. This set off a four-year odyssey of working with electrical engineers to incorporate the charging function into the Solar Foldy.
Griffin said that the Solar Foldy has utility for business travelers, campers and caregivers. However, she spoke passionately about potential of the device helping in humanitarian ways, especially for use in areas that have lost power. She also said that she would love to work with FEMA, and have her product be handed out in disaster relief packets.
Griffin noted how when she visited her daughter in Detroit and there was a power outage, she had the opportunity to use the Solar Foldy.
“It worked great,” she said.
Charge Ahead LLC was founded in 2013 by Griffin, who doesn’t have a design or engineering background.
“This is just completely something that got stuck in my head,” she said.
However, she did work for more than a decade as a paralegal, and she employed a law firm to establish contracts with consultants.
Charge Ahead currently utilizes two engineering consultants, in addition to marketing advisors.
“It’s a very small group right now,” said Griffin.
Griffin is a graduate of Smith College, but she left the area to move to New York City in 1983. She returned to the Pioneer Valley in 1991, moving to Florence with her then husband to start a family.
SEE SOLAR B6
Anne Griffin, owner of Charge Ahead, holds her Solar Foldy, which is a solar-powered light that doubles as a charger for cellphones, tablets and similar devices. Below a closeup look at the device.
STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS
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