April 16, 2014 · IGG, Success Stories

Where Are They Now: Bamboo Lota’s Rise From Ashes


Kyson, Joanna and Stephanie are three former UC Berkeley students whose successful story behind their Indiegogo campaign and subsequent nonprofit, Bamboo Lota, provides great insight for aspiring entrepreneurial campaigners.

What’s the story behind Bamboo Lota?

We founded Bamboo Lota in 2009 in a UCB Haas School of Business course, “Entrepreneurship to Address Global Poverty.” One of us was assigned the country of Malawi for a project, the goal being to create a social venture that would be sustainable and, hopefully, profitable.

Before we discovered Indiegogo, funding for our project came in a variety of ways. We entered social venture contests, received funding from angel investors, won contests by popular vote, and gained support from individual donors.

Why did you decide to use crowdfunding, and how did you find out about Indiegogo?

We wanted a way to include people from other social networks, and also reach out to those who were equally interested in bamboo. We knew Indiegogo would also work well for communicating with the wide range of supporters who were already backing our project. Lastly, we had friends who’d successfully raised funds through Indiegogo, so we wanted to give it a try!

What was your crowdfunding experience like?

It was actually fairly smooth. In the beginning, we weren’t sure what kind of perks to give, and how people would react, but in the end it went really well. In hindsight we probably should have set a higher end goal, but we wanted to be a bit conservative.

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What’s your biggest piece of advice for future crowdfunders?

Definitely try to expand beyond your personal network. Pick perks that are easy to distribute – we got a little overly ambitious with ours, and the logistics take a lot of time and effort. If you’re strapped on time and resources, maybe pick something that you can send electronically.

What’s happened since your campaign?

We used the money to go to Malawi for fieldwork and meet with government officials and NGOs on the ground. Since returning, we’ve partnered our efforts with colleagues at MIT and Berkeley to use their facilities for further government-requested testing. We also built a charcoal kiln sourced from local resources for the community to create bamboo charcoal. Finally, we educated locals on the bamboo-to-charcoal process, so they could operate the kiln after we left.

Bamboo 2

Why are you still passionate about Bamboo Lota?

This project is about making as big an impact as possible. Bamboo Lota has allowed us to do that, and to see a big change in perception in Malawi. When we first visited, bamboo was pretty much a throwaway resource, and the government wasn’t really interested in investing in it. It’s amazing to return two or three years later and see the government actively investing in bamboo instead of other potential resources. That to us is so meaningful, and continues to drive us to work to help communities in these areas.

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See what’s next for Bamboo Lota on its website!