Why Mark Cuban (and every other shark) wanted a piece of this lantern company

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Mark Cuban on His 'Shark Tank' Investments

These college friends devoted to helping after the earthquake in Haiti built a technical innovation with a social mission--and snagged a Shark to help them scale retail sales.

Inc.'s 11th annual 30 Under 30 list features the young founders taking on some of the world's biggest challenges. Here, meet LuminAid.

The year 2010 had just begun when Anna Stork sat down next to Andrea Sreshta in a design studio at Columbia University. The goal of studio time was for each student to embark on, and eventually complete, a thesis project--perhaps the architectural plans for a shopping center or a model of a skyscraper. But both women had trouble concentrating from the get-go: They couldn't stop thinking about the earthquake that had ravaged Haiti just days earlier.

They teamed up. They shared an interest in experimenting with solar power and wanted to create a project that could help victims of natural disasters. Within a few months, they'd scraped together recycled materials and purchased some electrical components from Amazon.com and Radio Shack. They hand-prototyped an inflatable lantern, powered by a rechargeable battery and solar power.

"We used bottle caps for the valves, and hand-sealed the plastic ourselves," Stork says. The following year they filed for patents of their inventions--and with that, they set up a company called LuminAid.

LuminAid's namesake rechargeable solar-powered LED lantern inflates like a balloon and collapses to become thinner than a deck of cards--meaning it takes up much less space than the smallest dependable flashlight. To mountain climbers, it's a popular piece of cool gear. But to first responders and victims of natural disasters, it's more than that.

Light is not just a necessity for cleanup, cooking, and moving about after dark; it also provides safety. As Kerri Murray, the chief executive of ShelterBox, a nonprofit that distributes LuminAid lanterns to disaster-relief sites, explains: "When you have tent camp situations after a crisis, energy and light are fundamental needs. The camp can be a very dangerous place, particularly for women and children, and having lighting can reduce the risk of sexual assault."

Check out the best business quotes from Mark Cuban:

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Why Mark Cuban (and every other shark) wanted a piece of this lantern company

#1: "I still work hard to know my business. I'm continuously looking for ways to improve all my companies, and I'm always selling. Always."

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#2: "When you've got 10,000 people trying to do the same thing, why would you want to be number 10,001?"

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#3: "Because if you're prepared and you know what it takes, it's not a risk. You just have to figure out how to get there. There is always a way to get there."

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#4: "Go out there and get rich. Get so obnoxiously rich that when that tax bill comes, your first thought will be to choke on how big a check you have to write."

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#5: "​In the past, people used to tell me to shut up a bit. But what I believe is to put out your opinion and let everyone else react. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong."

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#6: "I've learned that it doesn't matter how many times you failed. You only have to be right once. I tried to sell powdered milk. I was an idiot lots of times, and I learned from them all."

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#7: "Work like there is someone working 24 hours a day to take it all away from you."

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#8: "Forget about finding your passion. Instead, focus on finding big problems."

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#9: "It's not about money or connections -- it's the willingness to outwork and outlearn everyone when it comes to your business. And if it fails, you learn from what happened and do a better job next time."

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#10: "What I've learned is that if you really want to be successful at something, you'll find that you put the time in. You won't just ask somebody if it's a good idea, you'll go figure out if it's a good idea."

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In their first year, Stork and Sreshta launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund the manufacturing of a batch of the lights. They weren't expecting to find market validation simultaneously, but they did. "We raised five times our original goal, and all of a sudden we had customers--and a lot more than we thought," Sreshta says.

More than 50,000 LuminAid lanterns have been deployed across 70 countries, to refugees and in disaster zones including those for Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, and 2015's Nepalese earthquakes. The lanterns are made of nontoxic waterproof plastic--and they float.

Over the past five years, Stork and Sreshta have grown the business slowly, broadening its product offerings to more efficient lanterns with greater capabilities (they now make three varieties, including the PackLite 16, which can provide 30 hours of continuous light after a seven-hour charge) and partnering with more NGOs to distribute lights while continuing online sales. They have funded their efforts through entering--and winning--a number of university pitch contests and startup competitions. They even signed up online to be on Shark Tank.

And last February, they were. They'd practiced their pitch hundreds of times--and it worked. All five of the investors onstage wanted to back LuminAid, to the tune of at least $200,000. After a moment of dramatic whispering out of Shark earshot, they decided together: Mark Cuban would be their investor.

And, turns out, Shark Tank gave them a new lease on the business, Stork says. They saw a significant boost in online orders when the show aired, and they now have anticipated 2016 revenue of $5 million. More recently, for a Shark Tank update, Stork and Sreshta flew to Malawi with their customer ShelterBox. "It was our first time seeing the light in use by people truly in need. It was very touching and motivating," Stork says.

There may be challenges ahead, such as continuing to develop new and innovative products and managing a complex international supply chain. But "the experience of seeing our lights being used in Malawi will definitely motivate us for the next couple of years," Stork says.

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Now, take a look at Mark Cuban through the years:

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Mark Cuban: Through The Years
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Why Mark Cuban (and every other shark) wanted a piece of this lantern company
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban stands behind the Dallas bench in the opening minutes against the New York Knicks during their NBA game February 24, 2014 at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Mavericks won, 110-108. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - JANUARY 17: Owner Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks looks on during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on January 17, 2014 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Mavericks defeated the Suns 110-107. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Dallas Mavericks NBA basketball team owner and business man Mark Cuban walks with his legal team to the federal courthouse after a break in his inside trading trial in Dallas, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. Jurors in the federal government's insider-trading lawsuit against the billionaire began deliberating Wednesday in federal district court following a trial that spanned three weeks. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks NBA basketball team owner and business man, speaks to the media outside the federal courthouse after a verdict in his inside trading trial in Dallas, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. Jurors said that billionaire Mark Cuban did not commit insider-trading when he sold his shares in an Internet company in 2004 after learning of a development that would dilute the value of his investment. The jury in federal court found that the SEC failed to prove several key elements of its case, including that Cuban traded on nonpublic information. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Billionaire Dallas Mavericks NBA basketball team owner Mark Cuban, center, walks with his legal team to the federal courthouse after a break in his insider trading trial in Dallas, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. Jurors say billionaire Mark Cuban did not commit insider-trading when he sold his shares in an Internet company in 2004 after learning of a development that would dilute the value of his investment. The jury in federal court found that the SEC failed to prove several key elements of its case, including that Cuban traded on nonpublic information. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Mark Cuban, billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, speaks with members of the media as he exits federal court in Dallas, Texas, U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. Cuban said he doesn't recall details of a conversation in which he was allegedly warned that information he received about a company was confidential. Photographer: Mike Fuentes/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, left, exits federal court in Dallas, Texas, U.S., on Monday, Sept. 30, 2013. Cuban goes to trial over regulators' claims he engaged in insider trading when he sold his stake in a Canadian Internet search company nine years ago. Photographer: Ben Torres/Bloomberg via Getty Images
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 24: TV personality Mark Cuban attends the 2013 American Music Awards Powered by Dodge at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on November 24, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/AMA2013/Getty Images for Dodge)
The Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant (24) is hugged Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban after the Mavs' 90-82 win at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. (Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA,PA - NOVEMBER 16: Owner of the Dallas Mavericks Mark Cuban looks on against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center on November 16, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 16: Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, looks on prior to the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on November 16, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES CA - OCTOBER 29: Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, follows the action from behind the bench during the third quarter of the basketball game against Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center October 29, 2015, in Los Angeles California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Mark Cuban, Investor, Entrepreneur and Owner, Dallas Mavericks, offers his critique to finalists at the Global Startup Showcase, as one of four judges at 2015 WSJD Live on October 20, 2015 in Laguna Beach, California. WSJ D Live brings together top CEOs, founders, pioneers, investors and luminaries to explore the most exciting tech opportunities emerging around the world. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Mark Cuban, billionaire owner of the National Basketball Association's (NBA) Dallas Mavericks basketball team, left, and his wife Tiffany Cuban arrive at a state dinner in honor of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. The U.S. and China announced agreement on broad anti-hacking principles aimed at stopping the theft of corporate trade secrets though President Barack Obama pointedly said he has not ruled out invoking sanctions for violators. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Mark Cuban, billionaire owner of the National Basketball Association's (NBA) Dallas Mavericks basketball team, left, and his wife Tiffany Cuban arrive at a state dinner in honor of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. The U.S. and China announced agreement on broad anti-hacking principles aimed at stopping the theft of corporate trade secrets though President Barack Obama pointedly said he has not ruled out invoking sanctions for violators. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
SHARK TANK - Lori Greiner, Mark Cuban, Daymond John, Barbara Corcoran, Robert Herjavec and Kevin O'Leary is a 'Shark' on ABC's 'Shark Tank.' (Photo by Bob D'Amico/ABC via Getty Images)
SHARK TANK - Mark Cuban is a 'Shark' on ABC's 'Shark Tank.' (Photo by Bob D'Amico/ABC via Getty Images)
Dallas Mavericks' Mark Cuban in action during an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban reacts to a call during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban jokes with Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Boston Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban watches from the bench during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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