CINCINNATI - Patrick Sherwin doesn’t fit the profile of the tech-enabled startup, now dominating the landscape of Cincinnati’s innovation ecosystem.
But that doesn’t make his entrepreneurial vision less grand.
His goal is nothing short of saving about 2 million lives. The World Health Organization says that’s how many people die prematurely from indoor air pollution caused by open fires and leaky stoves.
Sherwin believes he has invented a remedy for that problem. The GoSun Stove can bake, fry and boil food using only the sun’s energy.
“It’s the first truly practical fuel-free cooking device,” said Sherwin. “It’s a solar cooker that is very fast in addition to being portable, safe and versatile in that it can cook solid foods as well boil fluids.”
The $279 stove uses a vacuum tube and parabolic reflectors to collect and focus the sun’s energy into a two-foot long tube. The entire stove weighs less than four pounds and comes in a carrying case the size of a tennis bag. You can place up to three pounds of food on a tray that slides into the tube. It takes about 10 minutes to cook four hot dogs, 20 minutes for scrambled eggs. Temperatures can reach 550 degrees inside the glass cylinder, he said.
This week, Sherwin launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that seeks to raise $40,000 by October 27 by selling discounted versions of his GoSun product, along with T-Shirts, posters and the ability to give a GoSun Stove to a family in Haiti.
Kickstarter is an online fundraising platform that lets entrepreneurs raise money for films, art, design and technology projects. More than 4.9 million people have used the site since 2009 to raise $773 million. Just a few days in, Sherwin has raised $1,134 from seven people. If he reaches his $40,000 goal, Sherwin will spend $31,000 on labor and materials, including an order of “evacuation tubes,” which are mass-produced in China for solar heating systems all over the globe. He adapted the tube for solar cooking.
He thinks the product has commercial applications for campers, tail-gaters and outdoor enthusiasts in the U.S. But what really fires him up is the idea that international charities might buy his product and distribute it to third-world countries.
“By eliminating much of the need for indoor cooking fires, the GoSun will reduce smoke inhalation, the second leading cause of death globally,” he writes in his Kickstarter pitch at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/707808908/gosun-stove-portable-high-efficiency-solar-cooker?ref=city
“By reducing the need for wood and charcoal, the GoSun will slow deforestation.”
Sherwin is an Anderson Township native and Ohio University graduate who builds prototypes for his patent-pending innovation at a friend’s workshop on Wooden Shoe Lane in Winton Terrace. His company, Applied Sunshine LLC, is based at another friend’s house in Spring Grove Village. Sherwin has worked as a solar thermal installer and consultant for the last ten years, saving money to fund his GoSun startup, which he formally launched in July.
He has two employees. Adam Moser is the company’s Chinese Liason and General Counsel, sourcing components and sorting out distribution arrangements. Matt Gillespie, a recent industrial design graduate from the University of Cincinnati, is working on a reduced salary pending the completion of the Kickstarter campaign.
Sherwin said he tried to get plugged into Cincinnati’s startup community but came away discouraged.
At a networking event for The Brandery, Sherwin said General Manager Mike Bott advised him not to apply to the startup accelerator, which helps tech-based startups improve their marketing and fundraising pitches.
“They’re basically looking for tech startups,” Sherwin said. “Now, isn’t (GoSun) a piece of tech? Yes, but it isn’t an app. This, being a hard-good product, can’t fit into their program, I guess.”
Bott said The Brandery focuses on consumer-oriented companies whose growth can be accelerated through the use of the Internet.
“It doesn’t really fit our portfolio,” Bott said of GoSun. “I don’t see it as something you can use the Internet to scale more quickly.”
Bott said the Cintrifuse startup initiative or Miami University’s Center for Social Entrepreneurship might be better fits for Sherwin’s company. Sherwin said he did approach Cintrifuse, but didn’t get the impression they were interested in his venture. He conceded that he could have been more aggressive about finding a place in Cincinnati’s startup world.
In the meantime, he hopes the Kickstarter campaign will change attitudes about his young venture.
“If we get validated, then folks are going to want to hear our story. Until then, we’re basically a couple of hippies in a garage,” he said.