th images menu user export search eye clock list list2 arrow-left untitled twitter facebook googleplus instagram cross photos entrep-logo-svg

Whatever Happened to the Saltwater Lamp Hailed by Obama?

Delays underscore the challenges of product development and fundraising faced by startups
By Elyssa Christine Lopez |

Raphael and Aisa Mijeno attended this year's Forbes 30 Under 30 Conference held at Solaire Resort and Casino



Fifteen minutes of fame may be all it takes to launch a career in the entertainment industry but it’s definitely not enough to ensure the success of a technology startup.


When Aisa Mijeno, who developed a new type of battery-powered lamp that uses saltwater solution as a component, appeared on the stage with then-US President Barack Obama and Alibaba founder Jack Ma during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila in November 2015, many people thought that spelled inevitable success for the venture.


What could go wrong after no less than the president of the most powerful nation in the world praised Mijeno and her innovative product? “I think Aisa is a perfect example of what we’re seeing in a lot of countries—young entrepreneurs coming up with leap-frog technology,” Obama said.


Yet, a year and a half since Obama said those words, Mijeno’s startup, Sustainable Alternative Lighting (SALt), has yet to begin large-scale production.


Part of the problem is the public’s unexpectedly high expectations about the project after Obama’s endorsement, coupled with the challenges of product development and fundraising.


“There’s a lot of misconception during the APEC season that the lantern has already been out in the market. We were in product development at that time, still,” Mijeno told Entrepreneur Philippines at the sidelines of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit Asia in Pasay City last July. “And it took us a while because product development—aside from it being capital extensive—it’s really hard to do. We need to have a lot of resources for that.”


In the last few years, Mijeno and her brother Raphael, who is SALt’s chief financial officer, have been busy sending out prototypes to rural coastal areas for feedback. She said they wanted to try the product on the target market so they can improve the SALt lamp’s design.


Aisa Mijeno said mass production and deliveries of their groundbreaking SALt lamps may start by the last quarter of 2017



“We produce around five to ten units every week. Since 2016, we’ve probably sent out around 500 units,” said Raphael. “And that’s all handmade.”


The device has undergone eight upgrades since the duo started SALt in 2014. The Mijenos said they have finalized the design and are firming up a deal with a large corporation to pursue mass production. So far, SALt has shelled out around Php4 million to keep product development going, according to Raphael.



Fundraising has been a challenge because many of the would-be investors insist on gaining majority control of the company.


“We’re shooting for 500 units a day or 15,000 units a month. If the deal pushes through, we won’t need to have any investors since they’ll take care of manufacturing and they won’t even take equity share,” Raphael explained.


The siblings refused to name the potential partner, but hinted that the manufacturer is a “large Filipino corporation.” Once the deal has been signed, deliveries may start by the last quarter of 2017 and the latest by the second quarter next year.


But like good startups, the Mijenos have a Plan B to remain on track if the production deal unravels.


“We can tap into those who have expressed their interest in either buying our product or investing in the company. So far, we have 45,000 pre-orders,” Raphael said. “So it would work like bridge financing.”


Mijeno has come under criticism from experts for overplaying the saltwater component of the device while underplaying the fact that the lamp basically runs on a metal-air battery. She is faulted when the media and admirers such as Obama himself say, rather inaccurately, that the lamps “run on nothing more than saltwater.”


To be sure, SALt’s website explicitly mentions that the lamp needs an anode or electrode that needs to be replaced every six months. She has also explained that the lamp is an innovation rather than an invention.


“With the naysayers, we don’t really get affected. We don’t do it for them, the purpose is to really help,” Raphael said.






Elyssa Christine Lopez is a staff writer of Entrepreneur PH. Follow her on Twitter @elyssalopz 

Latest Articles

For Job Seekers: Your Social Media Skills May be More Important Than Your School if Applying with Small Businesses, Says Report

Facebook study also details how SMEs use the social media platform to grow their businesses

byLorenzo Kyle Subido | November 25, 2017 09:00:00

If You Think These 5 Things, You'll Never Get Rich by the Time You're 30

Five common mistakes entrepreneurs make when starting a business and how to correct them

byAdam Toren | November 25, 2017 08:00:00

(Infographic) How Long Does it Take to Become a Top Ranked Result on Google?

New data looks at the circumstances that will catapult you to the top

byNina Zipkin | November 25, 2017 06:00:00

5 Signs That Employees are Overworked

How much is too much? You may lose that talented person if you don't take action

byDoug and Polly White | November 25, 2017 02:00:00

This Business Delivers Fresh, Organic Salads To Your Doorstep

Isabel's, a family-run enterprise, delivers healthy and delicious salads, wraps, and platters to...

byNicole Limos and Paolo Chua for | November 25, 2017 00:00:00

Unfazed by Looming Vehicle Excise Tax Increase, Luxury Car Brands Jaguar and Land Rover Are Back in PH

The British car company returns to the country under Coventry Motors Corp. after a six-month break

byPaul John Caña | November 24, 2017 19:00:00

Buying Retail Treasury Bonds Paying 4.625% p.a.? Banks Advise Investors to Apply Well Ahead of Nov. 29 Deadline

It takes days for bank branches to get back to you with confirmation your application has been...

byElyssa Christine Lopez | November 24, 2017 13:00:00

Maynilad Wins Digital Transformer of the Year Award for Integration of Information and Operations Technology

Fintech insurance provider Bima and logistics operator Air21 also win awards from IDC Philippines

byPauline Macaraeg | November 24, 2017 10:00:00

Bench@30: Long-Term Growth Amid Greater Competition From Int’l Brands

Who are the owners of leading Filipino-owned clothing brand and how is it coping with entry of...

byPauline Macaraeg | November 24, 2017 09:00:00

The One Leadership Trait That Will Ensure You Succeed at Anything You Do

Can you adapt when the tough times hit?

byMatthew Toren | November 24, 2017 08:00:00

These Are the Skills Freelancers Need Most to Make an Impact Right Now

You might want to check out Blockchain, cybersecurity and AI

byNina Zipkin | November 24, 2017 06:00:00

Your Facebook Likes Can Tell Advertisers If You're an Introvert or Extrovert

And they can tailor what you see based on that information

byNina Zipkin | November 24, 2017 02:00:00