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Jessica Matthews brings clean energy to the world, one sport at a time.
Matthews is the founder of Uncharted Play, a startup making sports equipment that generates power while you play.
“We’re organized around a simple mission – to inspire people around the world to lead playful lives and promote their well-being,” Matthews told VentureBeat in an interview. “Life brings all of these distractions, and it’s the job of companies to design products that make it easier for people to do good. Recycling is boring, and a solar panel won’t encourage kids to take something apart and put something back together. What we do is put utility into the world’s most popular sport. “
Uncharted Play’s first product is SOCCKET, a soccer ball that harnesses energy. A pendulum-like mechanism in the ball captures kinetic energy and stores it in the ball for later use as an off-grid power source. Thirty minutes of play can power a single LED light for three hours.
Millions of people in developing countries do not have access to clean, safe and affordable electricity. Electricity is unreliable and often comes from dangerous sources, such as diesel generators or kerosene lamps.
Matthews’ family is from Nigeria. During a visit in 2008, she saw how expensive electricity was and how many families struggled to pay for their utility needs. The lack of light makes it extremely difficult for students to do homework or for families to complete household chores at night.
At the same time, children love to play football – they play at home, at school, on the street, alone, with friends, in the morning, in the afternoon and anytime and anywhere between the two.
Matthews wondered if there was a way to harness this joyful energy into real energy.
“Parents want their kids to play, and this is even more important in the developing world, in cultures where people want to be jovial and love life, while recognizing that things aren’t great,” said Matthews. “We provide them with a win-win solution that not only addresses a problem, but inspires them to think and discuss. And the children play more.
Matthews was then a student at Harvard. She and co-founder Julia Silverman built the SOCCKET prototype as part of a class project. They realized the opportunity was much greater and founded Uncharted Play in 2011 in New York City.
SOCCKET weighs 17 oz, which is only 1 oz more than a normal soccer ball. It is airless, “anti-deflation” and has a water resistant shell. It has a power of 6 watts, capable of powering an LED lamp for more than 72 hours. It also has an adapter for charging an iPhone.
So far, the product has been tested in South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nigeria, Tanzania and a few places in the United States. Matthews aims to bring Uncharted Play products to the world and is full of ideas for the future.
The soccer ball is the first product and the skipping rope is “almost ready”. The jump rope will hold four times the power of the SOCCKET, and 15 minutes of jumping can provide six hours of LED light. Uncharted Play is also working on an American football and skateboard.
It is a for-profit company that works with sponsors and corporate partners like Western Union to make money. Uncharted Play also works with NGOs to manage field distribution in developing countries, where products are free. Matthews strongly believes in for-profit social enterprises and believes that one day all businesses will become social enterprises and impact businesses.
“To create the best products, you have to be part of the economy,” she said. “It forces you to make changes that make people buy your products. The only way to have a sustainable business is to have real and honest respect for your customers. This is what sustainability is. “
Uncharted Play has raised nearly $ 100,000 on Kickstarter and $ 500,000 on crowdfunding site Fundable to speed up production and distribution.
Matthews said his vision is “super global” and the opportunities are endless.
True, soccer balls and skipping ropes are no substitute for a durable and reliable energy grid, but in places where reliable energy is not a reality, these products are a creative solution.
They bring light and joy to places where life is hard, one kick of the soccer ball at a time.
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