A 26 year-old Nigerian, Max Chinnah and graduate of the Wartburg College in Iowa, United States has invented a smokeless cookstove that he has patented, along with his Ghanaian partner, Godwin Attigah.
The company they founded Terraoak, is set to mass manufacture the stove and launch a global sales. “We’re on a mission to push back against these global threats in order to ensure a greener future for the next generation!”, the company said on its Facebook page.
Here is Chinnah’s story as told to wcfcourier.com:
Max Chinnah knows too well the health hazards of cooking over open fires.
It’s a common practice in his homeland of Nigeria and led to respiratory ailments that claimed his grandmother’s life.
But the 26-year-old Wartburg College graduate now hopes his portable and smokeless cookstove will someday help save lives around the planet.
Terraoak Inc., a company Chinnah founded with fellow Wartburg alumnus Godwin Attigah, is preparing a sales launch this fall for their stove, which converts heat into electricity and outputs it through a USB jack to charge a phone or other small electronic device.
“We are deeply committed to making this dream a reality because it’s a big problem and something we’ve experienced personally,” Chinnah said. “For us it’s very real and raw and very personal.”
The young entrepreneurs initially are marketing Genesys to camping and outdoor recreation enthusiasts but hope to scale up production internationally. Based on the level of early sales, Terraoak already has an arrangement with the World Wide Fund for Nature to give away 1,000 stoves to farmers in rural Kenya.
Indoor air pollution, heightened by inefficient cooking fuels, is a “monstrous problem” that claims 4.3 million lives every year and contributes to global climate change, Chinnah said. Another 1.1 billion people lack access to reliable electricity.
“I’ve been given so much opportunity just coming here,” he said. “This could be my way of not only solving this problem, but giving back, adding value to other people’s lives.”
Chinnah was raised near the Nigerian capital of Abuja, the son of an electrical engineer, and was fortunate that his family could afford a computer when he was just 10 years old.
“That was fascinating to me,” he recalled. “Growing up I’d always had a curious mind. Playing out on the street with my friends and I’d see a plane fly by. I wondered, ‘How do they see at night? They don’t have headlights.’”
A scholarship package helped Chinnah get to Wartburg in 2011. His only knowledge about Iowa at the time came from watching the movie “Field of Dreams.”
“It wasn’t so much a culture shock,” he said. “But it was just an adjustment to the quiet, especially in Waverly. I really appreciated that because it was a break from my norm.”
Chinnah earned a degree in computer science. But it was a trip to a Clinton Global Initiative conference in Miami that set him on his current path.
“The thing that really energized me was I found people as young as me, even younger, pursuing ambitious goals and big dreams,” he said. “That helped me snap things in focus and change the course of my life, I think, for the better.”
While Chinnah always felt the urge to be an entrepreneur, the conference let him know he didn’t have to wait until later in life to pursue that passion.
“I didn’t really want to just create an app that didn’t add value,” he said. “So I started to think about the things that are really important to me. I’ve always been intrigued by the issue of climate change, and how can we push back against that and leave a better planet for our grandkids.”
He would later meet his eventual business partner, Attigah, a Wartburg student from Ghana, and the two would begin the arduous task of seeking funds to secure a utility patent for the stove and prepare it for manufacturing.
The stove won a $10,000 innovation prize at Yale University’s Global Health Innovation Conference in 2016, which funded field tests under harsh conditions in Ghana.
Terraoak later got seed funds from Red Cedar, a local organization created to help startups and entrepreneurs connect with resources to get them off the ground.
“That was incredibly instrumental for us to get our sample unit done and also get in touch with a manufacturer,” Chinnah said. “Before we got that, it was really hard, just excruciatingly hard, to raise funds.
“I literally was building my life, my network, from the ground up, which makes it a lot more challenging when you want to be entrepreneurial. It was really hard for us to get connected, to get that uplink.
“Talent may be universal, but opportunity’s not,” he added. “Part of the reason we’re doing this is so our story can inspire other people. Other people can see this and say, ‘You know what, I’ve got through a similar situation like these guys. Maybe if they can make it then I’ve got a shot.’”
Terraoak has a manufacturer ready to begin production pending completion of a successful Kickstarter launch this fall. The Kickstarter model requires enough units to be ordered before the project is viable and manufacturing begins.
The firm has an online landing page in place now — tomsfinds.com/terraoak/a100-001-i1/ — where potential customers can sign up to be notified when the Kickstarter begins and receive a discount on their order.
Chinnah is hoping for strong local support when the launch takes place.
“Great ideas can spring forth from anywhere,” he said. “Our story started here in Iowa. We could use a lot of local support from people in Iowa.”
The men are optimistic about the product’s success after visiting campgrounds and outdoor recreation stores to get feedback about Genesys.
“They were really excited about our story,” he said. “It ties into a larger goal, a social mission, to get this product out there and so we can sale it internationally and touch lives.”