#Thrive Thursday: Meet Alice Chun, founder and CEO of Solight

thrive thursday Feb 11, 2021

What is your story? Or in other words, what made you your awesome self you are today?

As a little girl growing up in Seoul, Korea, and then upstate New York, I spent many days learning how a simple fold can become structured. Origami forms were taught by my mother, who also taught me how to sew my own clothes. I was always creative, fascinated by design, structure, and forms. I studied architecture at Penn State, where I obtained my undergraduate degree and earned my Masters in Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. 

With emerging trends in material technology resulting in smarter, lighter, faster, sustainable fabrication, I started to sew solar panels to the fabric as early experiments for harnessing solar energy with softer, malleable material. I became focused on solar technology and finding ways to create clean energy solutions upon learning my son Quinn was diagnosed with asthma. 

While teaching as a Professor in Architecture and Material Technology at Columbia University, I created early solar lights prototypes with my students. Still not satisfied and fuelled by my passion for helping the underserved, I invented the world’s only self-inflatable, portable solar light, eliminating the need for a mouth nozzle. This ensured a healthy, sanitary method to inflate. I named this invention the SolarPuff™ and conducted three years of field testing in Haiti. In 2015 I launched Solight Design and initiated a Kickstarter program with unprecedented results. I went on to win numerous awards, including the US Patent Award for Humanity, and her products have been exhibited at MOMA, the Modern Museum of Art in New York City.


What message do you promote? 

Light warriors. That we all have the power to make a difference no matter how small or vast your vision; with climate change, we all took part in the demise of the environment by making choices that harmed our environment. Today, we have the power to heal the planet with the choices we make.


In what capacity do you LEAD UP in your community? 

I’ve taught the children in marginalized neighborhoods from Dominica to NYC to Detroit, seminars on solar innovation -- more importantly, the power of the light in our minds and hearts.  I’ve inspired young girls to follow their intuition and passions, most importantly impacting the way we all see our potential to harness the power and light within our minds and hearts. 

What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?

Helping people from all walks of life, most of our humanitarian missions were in natural disaster zones. My greatest inspiration comes from our customers and when their faces light up when they see our innovations.

  1. “Why” we do what we do is more important than the “what” since there is a great deal of competition. The why deals with understanding and honing what information is already out there and peeling your eyes and senses to the opportunities to be harnessed, specifically by understanding the competition. With the SolarPuff, it is the impact of understanding that design provides dignity---whether you live in Nigeria or Nantucket, design matters. 
  2. We forget how important giving people wonder, joy and awe. That’s what the SolarPuff does through design. And so far, we've impacted over 1 million lives worldwide through our humanitarian efforts with our NGO partners, seeing children being able to read at night, seeing refugees traveling on foot for miles then being given one of our lights or phone charger to empower them and help them survive. Seeing Syrian refugees use our lights for a wedding in a tent camp. And after the Haiti earthquake, we realized there were 2.6 billion living without access to electricity or kerosene to light their world at night. Two million children die from the bad air. While 200,000 house fires and brush fires occur in South Africa each year. When there are a natural disaster and no light, we see a rise in assaulted women and girls; however, having a light in the tent camps lowered the assault cases by 20%.


How do you SHOW UP? 

By demonstrating vs. analysis paralysis. The beauty of innovation is problematizing a solution. Not trying to find the correct answer. Then the action you take to solve the current problematic solutions. 

Instilling the belief: never, never, be afraid to do what’s right…

After the lockdown in NYC, I saw the incredible waste and harm that the traditional face masks are causing to the environment and the wounds on the healthcare workers caused by the pressure needed for an airtight seal for N95 Efficacy. About 5.2 billion masks go to waste each year from every country, and they are all made from Polypropylene, which lasts 450 years in the ocean. With the hearing impaired being marginalized due to our faces and our humanity being covered, I felt the drive to solve this issue and invented a new soft transparent mask called SEEUS95-which adheres to your face, so no ear loops or head harness is needed. I got working and made a lab in my kitchen, which looked like a bomb exploded. In three months, I prototyped 59 silicone masks, wrote the patent, filed the patent, and drove an online campaign that raised almost $500K in one month. We are about to get our first batch of inventory soon and start clinical trials with healthcare workers in January. 

There is a big difference between giving someone knowledge vs. information, and it cuts the same way with the difference between demonstration and illustration. 

The demonstration comes from the etymology to show-- in Medieval Times, the children of prostitutes were called monsters, and through the child’s face, the father was revealed, the showing, and that is where the word DEMonstrate came from -- the showing. It is through a tangible set of actions that have an impact and a vision.

Until now, no one cared about the way we all looked in masks. Until now, no one cared about the comfort of our warriors on the front lines. Until we saw the unseen. No one cared that the deaf could not communicate in our current masks.

Did we all find a deep tinge of hope and longing to do better? You can talk and research and analyze spreadsheets. Still, it’s only when you take that true first step, which is a commitment to action, because of the belief that the risk of doing nothing is greater than the risk of being wrong...where you allow yourself the privilege to discover what you are capable of, part of it is numbing the fear and part of it is grabbing on to the “why” or the values or purpose--it’s the compass for your decisions. If we make more decisions that aim for a better future, even if it is to protect our children and their future selfishly, we will positively influence the future of humanity. 

Without that core, purpose, and passion for justice, there is only a limit to what you can sustain. The amount of pain, tremendous effort, and time that it takes to start a new enterprise to turn an idea into reality - takes blood, vigilance, and undying determination. Without that purpose, most people will give up. It’s the only reason why I would start a new venture, and that’s reveling in the knowledge that it will make lives better.

Entrepreneurs are like Architects, and it’s not about building possible realities. It’s about building real possibilities.


Contact Alice Chun


[email protected]









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