Greenlight Planet Inc. was founded by T. Patrick Walsh, an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While working over the summer of 2005 in rural India with the NGO Engineers Without Borders, Patrick spent pitch-black nights with a few of the two billion people who lack access to electricity, a population stuck using dangerous and expensive kerosene lanterns to light their homes. The charitable work involved installing an experimental diesel generator in a single village. But the sprawling problem cried out for a global solution. Realizing that these consumers needed not donations, but affordable alternative consumer product offerings, Patrick designed a solar-powered replacement for the kerosene lamp: brighter and healthier, but cheap enough that people could buy it on their own, without subsidies.
Back at the University of Illinois, Patrick teamed up with classmates Anish Thakkar and Mayank Sekhsaria, electrical engineering students who knew that the biggest challenge lay beyond the product engineering effort, when it would come time to deliver and explain the product to consumers in far-flung communities worldwide. Becoming co-founders of Greenlight Planet, Anish and Mayank moved to India in the winter of 2008 to begin building Greenlight Planet’s innovative distribution network, comprised at its foundation of micro-entrepreneurs they deemed Saathis, or friends.