When he was a boy in Eugene, OR, one of Mathias Craig’s favorite Christmas gifts was the MIT course catalogue that linguistics professor Ken Hale sent each year. Craig’s mother, Colette Grinevald Craig, had studied with Hale, and they remained close friends until his death in 2001. Craig would spend days carefully mapping out imaginary class schedules.
Years later, when Craig was an MIT graduate student in civil and environmental engineering, he again found himself leafing through the catalogue. One class particularly intrigued him–Entrepreneurship in the Developing World, which explored ways business ventures can improve the lives of impoverished people. Craig drew up a plan for building wind turbines to purify water and submitted it to the MIT $50K Entrepreneurship Competition.
“For me it was something very concrete,” he says. “I really believed in it. I was doing it as more than just an exercise.” In fact, Craig saw the project as a solution to a problem he knew firsthand. From age 11, he’d spent summers on Nicaragua’s isolated Caribbean coast while his mother, then head of the University of Oregon’s linguistics department, documented Amerindian languages. Generators still provide the only source of power for most of the region, and nearly 80 percent of the population lacks electricity. Craig learned about wind power as an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, so he constructed his hypothetical business venture around the promise of sustainable energy.
Craig’s business plan won $1K in the Warm-Up round of the MIT $50K competition. Emboldened by the award, Craig turned down a job waiting for him after graduation to launch BlueEnergy with his brother Guillaume and a childhood friend. Craig serves as executive director and board chairman for the nonprofit, which builds hybrid wind and solar electric systems. BlueEnergy is headquartered in San Francisco, where Craig lives with his wife, Lorelei, but the center of operation is in Bluefields, Nicaragua. To date, BlueEnergy has eight installations serving 1,500 people in six communities. Each system produces 1,500 to 2,000 kilowatt-hours per year.
The organization’s work has drawn accolades. Last July, BlueEnergy was profiled on CNN, which named Craig a “CNN Hero.” Last fall, Craig won a Tech Museum Award for economic development from the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, CA. He hopes to expand BlueEnergy globally, but for now he’s focusing on bringing its model to other parts of Nicaragua.