For legions of truck drivers, employees chasing deadlines, and students burning the midnight oil, Manoj Bhargava’s best-selling invention, 5-hour ENERGY drink, has already been a lifesaver.
Since launching the caffeine-based power-drink in 2004, Bhargava, 62, has quietly amassed a $4 billion fortune. (Not to mention some scrutiny last year in light of controversy over the marketing of the drink.) But it’s not all about the profits: A former monk, Bhargava dabbled in a variety of odd jobs early in his career—taxi driver, construction worker, printing press operator, business manager—and seems to have gained extra empathy for the plight of the working poor.
In a new self-produced film called Billions in Change, released Oct. 5, Bharvaga has pledged to give away 99% of his fortune to charity.
A huge stake of that wealth will go into a design and engineering laboratory called Stage 2 Innovations. Housed in a building within his 25-acre corporate campus in Farmington Hills, Michigan, the “tinkerer’s workshop,” as he calls it, has a singular mission: to create technologies that provide a livelihood boost for people in the developing world.
To change the world, what you have to do is invent more stuff, says Bhargava in his film.
“I think most people in the United States forgot that [inventors and engineers] brought us to where we are,” he later reflected during an interview with the Huffington Post. “The wealth that has been created over the last 120 years came from guys who actually built stuff.”
“We just concentrate on things that can be incredibly useful,” explained Bharvaga. “If you come up with something cool that’s not, we don’t do it. I have no interest. I don’t want to be cool…Actually, I’m never going to be cool.”
Cool or not, some of Stage 2’s projects are impressively ambitious—setting their sights on ending the planet’s energy and clean water resource crisis.
Among Stage 2’s inventions is Free Electric, a bicycle-powered machine that can convert human mechanical energy to electricity. One hour of pedaling is transformed to 24 hours of electricity for off-grid areas of the world—enough to recharge a cellphone, light up a house or power an electric kettle—all without waste or utility bills. Next year, Bhargava plans to ship 10,000 of these free bikes to India, with initial pilot testing planned in the northern state of Uttarakhand before the nationwide roll-out.
Bharvaga is also investing heavily to develop graphene cables that might one day conduct heat from the core of the earth directly to the surface. Heat, after all, is energy, and could potentially end the need for oil rigs and nuclear energy plants. If he’s successful, Bhargava could provide a sustainable, round-the-clock energy solution long after the buzz of caffeine wears off.