BY LINDA BAKER
Ben West, CEO of EcoZoom
// Photo by Sierra Breshears
Ben West was working for a trucking company in Tennessee, “getting good raises and good bonuses,” when he realized the work wasn’t making him feel good about what he was doing. So the 32-year-old Portland native decided to get an MBA from the University of Oregon, where he met a business professor on the board of Aprovecho, a nonprofit that designs efficient cookstoves for use in developing countries. Aprovecho needed help with commercialization, so in 2011 West decided to launch EcoZoom, a startup that works to distribute such cookstoves around the world. About half the world’s population works over an open flame, causing health and environmental problems, West says. EcoZoom contracts with a manufacturer in China to build wood- and charcoal-burning stoves that reduce emissions and smoke exposure, then sells the stoves to companies, government agencies and aid organizations. EcoZoom also sells the stoves for camping and outdoor use. So far EcoZoom has sold about 68,000 stoves for $1.9 million. “We thought we would build a foundation,” says West. “Instead, we’re doing our best to fill orders.” The company’s long-term goal is to create sustainable, for-profit supply chains in developing countries, but that will be an uphill battle. “Coke took 12 years to get profitable in Africa,” West observes.
PRODUCT: Clean-burning stoves
CEO: Ben West
AT A GLANCE: Raised $40,000 from founders and family members. Secured a $50,000 loan from Mercy Corps. Currently raising $750,000. Five full-time employees, including a former director of supply relations and quality at Boeing. “He’s kind of our product czar.”
GOOD WORKS: EcoZoom is one of the 33 Oregon BCorps, businesses that have been certified as socially and environmentally responsible. “It demonstrates to people that we’re serious about being a positive business,” says West. “For our customer base, it’s important to show we’re holding ourselves to a higher standard.”