Anna Stork

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LuminAID

Anna Stork

2012 Finalist for North America

Cartier really helped us share our idea and get more invested in it
Cartier experience helps Chicago start-up LuminAID shine a light on disaster areas
Interview conducted in Chicago, United States

When Anna was a North American finalist for the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards in 2012, she received networking opportunities she says helped make her company the success it is today.

Her company LuminAID was in a state of relative infancy that year. Anna and business partner Andrea Sreshta had recently completed their graduate studies at Columbia University in New York City and just raised $50,000 in a crowdfunding campaign to launch their company, which creates portable, inflatable solar-powered lights for disaster relief, humanitarian aid and recreational outdoor use. The money raised online paid for the company’s first distribution run. As a result, both partners were kept busy completing orders from all around the world.

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But Anna says even with that early success, they still “weren’t actually sure what would come out of it.”

“We knew we had a good idea but weren’t sure if we could reach the right customers and what the end result would be,” she says. “Cartier really helped us share our idea and get more invested in it.”

Anna, 30, traveled to Paris where she met the other finalists, an experience she says helped create a community of likeminded social entrepreneurs who, in the years since, helped serve as reliable mentors. The startup DayOne Response, for example, a company that distributes water and sanitation products globally to relief organizations, proved valuable in helping answer distribution questions and even sharing customer lists. “It ends up being a really small world,” she says. “Every entrepreneur does things slightly differently, so it’s really interesting to learn the process about how they are growing and what steps they are taking so you can figure out how to work that into your growth.”

LuminAID launched as a response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, an event that produced the need for portable light in tent cities during the ongoing relief efforts. Since then, the company’s products have served relief workers during Hurricane Sandy (2012), Typhoon Haiyan in Southeast Asia (2013) and the recent earthquake in Nepal (2015). In 2012, the company donated 2,000 lights to relief agencies; by the end of last year it has donated more than 25,000 lights to organizations around the world.

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Going into the Cartier experience helped us grow very quickly

While the company will continue to serve disaster relief, it has been recently focusing on expanding its retail channel where it markets its lights as a camping or first aid accessory. So far, both L.L. Bean and the Container Store carry their products, and Anna says she hopes major retailers will be on board in coming years. In 2015, company sales were ten times what they were in 2012 and today, LuminAID offers its products in more than 60 countries. The company is based in Chicago and has a total staff of five people.

The growth can be directly traced back to Anna’s immersion as a finalist in Paris.

“Going into the Cartier experience, we didn’t know what our business model would be and how we would split our different sales channels,” she says, “We’ve grown very, very quickly.”